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Runninq on Emptiness 

John Zorian is the mont Important philosopher of our 
tlmq. All tho rost of us are building an his foundation 
His unmlcinTmg questions and corolul AnftlySAS point u!> 

toward ih* n*to&sarv oa*"l: tho unmaking of Civilisation, 
— Derrick Jensen, author of A Lait&ti-agit Otciat 
Then Words and Listening fo ins Lend 

PDF put out by Green Anarchy Wikidot website, , an 
online resource for anti-civilization anarchist literature. 

Please check out the following books by the author: 

Elements of Refusal 

Future Primitive 

Against Civilization (Editor) 

Questioning Technology (Editor) 

Twilight of the Machines 

Essays and books of Zerzan's can be found at 
zerzan . 


by Theresa Kintz 

This collection of essays from civilization's most cogent living critic demands 
consideration. Consideration of the indisputable fact that no matter where you're from ten 
thousand years ago your ancestors were stone-age anarchists. Consideration of the 
significance of how for 99 percent of human history people walked gently on the earth, 
lived free in harmony with wild nature and each other accomplishing everything they 
needed to accomplish in their daily lives using a stone, bone, wood tool technology. It 
demands we consider why all artifacts have politics and how when we use tools they use 
us back. It requires we consider how human nature was originally one and part of a whole 
and now we lament that we are lost and alienated from one another. 

It is in this context that we are then forced to consider the following questions: What are 
the origins of this estrangement? Why do we ignore the nature of our own bodies and 
minds? Who decided we needed mechanization, electricity, nuclear power, automobiles 
or computer technology? Has one single man-made item been a necessary improvement 
on the earth? Why do we put the survival of all species on the planet in peril for our 
exclusive comfort and gratification? How did we come to dedicate our lives to 
maintaining this mad tangle of supply and demand that we call civilization? And finally, 
what will it take for us to give up on the artificiality of our grim modern lives and cleave 
instead to what is natural? 

For two decades, author John Zerzan's research has focused intently on these issues. As 
one of only a handful of scholars to do so seriously, Zerzan is the most important writing 
from a definitively anarchist point of view. His work has contributed to the development 
of a perspective that seeks to merge anarchist socio-political analysis with radical deep- 
green environmental thought, engendering a revolutionary green anarchist outlook with a 
dual focus on social and environmental issues and the interplay between the two. Inspired 
equally by anti-authoritarian and radical green viewpoints this dynamic and thought- 
provoking analytical framework has come to be referred to as anarcho-primitivism (AP). 
Some essential elements of the analysis are: 

• Society as we know it now in the industrialized world is pathological and the 
civilizing impulses of certain dominant groups and individuals are effectively to 

• Trends in communication towards acts of symbolic representation have obstructed 
human being's ability to directly experience one another socially, and alienated us 
from the rest of the natural world. 

• Humanity basically took a wrong turn with the advent of animal domestication 
and sedentary agriculture, which laid the foundation for the exploitation of the 
earth, facilitated the growth of hierarchical social structures and subsequently the 
ideological control of the many by the few. 

• All technology besides the stone-age techniques of hunter-gatherers is inherently 
detrimental to social relations and set the stage for the ecological catastrophe now 
being brought on by the technoindustrial system. 

While AP aspires to inform and enlighten with regards to the anthropological and 
archaeological knowledge it imparts, the primary purpose is to articulate non-negotiable 
social discontent and exhort and incite revolutionary social change. Illustrating how 
contemporary society is die product of thousands of years of social struggles and 
complex technological changes demonstrates that the current state of affairs we find 
ourselves in is neither inevitable nor desirable in light of what is known about cultural 
processes. Anarcho-primitivist thought and action is intentionally provocative. Zerzan is 
not arguing for "going back," rather he is arguing for going forward, towards a future 
primitive. Green anarchists who will shun identification with all "isms" (perceived as 
categorical constructions imposed by the civilization they struggle against) are unified by 
the recognition that it is important not only to understand the genesis of the totality in 
theory, but also to decide for oneself how to effectively resist in practice and do so. And 
there is no place where theory has been put into practice more successfully than in the 
Oregon community John Zerzan has been a part of since 1981. 

It was in 1999 that Eugene moved onto the frontlines of the green anarchist movement in 
a big way after mainstream media noticed the community's vocal support of the rioting 
Black Bloc during the anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. The "Eugene 
Anarchists" quickly received widespread notoriety with Eugene subsequently dubbed 
"the anarchist capital of America." An appearance on the TV news magazine 60 Minutes 
followed by interviews with major magazines meant the intense media attention went on 
unabated for months. 

Those of us who had been around for a while couldn't remember a time when the words 
anarchy and anarchist were bandied about more in popular culture. The fact it was mostly 
in association with the truly radical anarchism of the anarcho-primitivists inevitably 
caused a backlash from within the more conventional anarchist community. The AP 
perspective, despite being the most vibrant and active, remains a contested point of view, 
as traditional anarchists continue to press on with an anti-authoritarian agenda designed 
to appeal to a disaffected proletariat, focusing on distribution of wealth and class 
dimensions of contemporary society rather than the fundamental structures that engender 
it. Within these circles the AP perspective is perceived as too extreme, the critique of 
technology too radical and the prescriptions for social change impossible to ever 
actualize. Still, anarcho-primitivists have persisted in confronting the old guard in the 
pages of radical periodicals like Green Anarchist (UK), Green Anarchy (US), Black Clad 
Messenger, Disorderly Conduct, Live Wild or Die and the Coalition Against Civilization 
newsletter Species Traitor. Their use of thought-provoking, impudent and absurdly 
humorous agit-prop to communicate specific elements of dieir profound critique is a self- 
conscious affirmation of their commitment to blatant incitement. Nothing is sacred and 
that is the point. 

Eugene was also the home of the Earth First! Journal from 1991 to 2000. It was a time 
that saw this once vital radical periodical slide into a pattern of liberal-oriented, 
uninspired hand-wringing as Zerzan often pointed out in its letters pages. But in large 
part due to the Journal's presence a unique intersection of some very special people 
occurred there in the mid-nineties. It was the successful Warner Creek forest defense 
campaign that first drew the scores of young people who would leave their homes in 
cities to take up precarious existence hundreds of feet off the ground in tree villages. In 
1998 a new occupation with a more chaotic and anarchic bent was initiated at Fall Creek 
outside Eugene. The Red Cloud Thunder treesitters spent their days and nights in 
constant vigil, sometimes going for months without ever touching the ground, using their 
bodies to protect the centuries-old stands of ancient forest destined for lumber mills in the 
Pacific Northwest. 

Once these forest defenders had excommunicated themselves from civilization and taken 
up residence in communal social groups in the woodlands they came to identify 
completely with this landscape. It was reflected in their daily interactions with one 
another and with the forest. The stories and poetry they wrote in defense of the wild were 
poignant and affective. Their desire to reject modern industrial society was utterly 
authentic, heartfelt and spiritual. They were deliberately re-wilding themselves through 
acts of confrontation and defiance, and fundamentally changing their lives. 

The activists in the trees were intimately familiar with the various elements of 
environmentalist discourse and many had gone through a progression from "shallow 
ecology" — a commitment to recycling, supporting local conservation projects, becoming 
vegetarians, to a "deep ecology" — rejecting reformist approaches, losing faith in legal 
means of protection, and finally questioning the foundations of industrial society in 
general. Some, disenfranchised and disenchanted bourgeoisie, had majored in 
environmental studies where they learned the essentials of biology, chemistry, physics, 
etc., but found the scientistic ecological analysis profoundly lacking from political and 
spiritual perspectives. Some were working-class urban runaways searching for a way out 
of the cage of civilization, looking for a community of resistance where they could share 
skills and fight the good fight for the wild. What they all had in common by the time they 
went to live in trees was a feeling of profound affinity with wild nature and a desire to 
immerse themselves in natural systems, to come to a degree of understanding that would 
never be achieved in crowded industrial urban environments or by reading books and 
attending lectures. What they desired was a sense of place, a feeling of connection to all 
living things. For the Fall Creek forest defenders taking direct action in defense of the 
wild was not about abstract political arguments or scientific rationale, it was about truly 
doing away with the nature/culture dualism, rejecting civilization and defining one's self 
as a member of the community of all beings. 

At the same time activists who remained in urban areas were thoroughly rejecting the 
lifestyle it dictates. Their resistance took the form of declaring liberated zones within the 
confines of the cities. In addition to Zerzan's Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene that 
provided essential ground support for the trees, there was also the Minnehaha Free State 
in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnehaha was particularly significant with respect to the 

unique alliance local Earth First! activists established with indigenous Native Americans 
there. The joint occupation began at a prehistoric archaeological site due to be destroyed 
by a highway re-route when a group of Earth Firsriers and members of the Mendota tribe 
began squatting in evacuated houses just before demolition. The Minnehaha Free State 
was an intentional community where an atmosphere of mutual aid and fellowship 
flourished. Supported by many in the surrounding local community, the coalition of 
activists confronted the state and held up the road project for several months until the 
governor sent in the National Guard to remove the protesters in what would be the largest 
police action in Minnesota history. 

This is just a brief description of the social context in which the essays in Running on 
Emptiness were written in the years between 1995 and 2001. Most premiered in the pages 
of those radical periodicals that Zerzan regularly contributes to. This current compilation 
continues the work began in previous volumes, Future Primitive and Elements of Refusal, 
by looking into possible ways out of this dismal ascent into violence, oppression, hatred, 
environmental exploitation and human misery that is civilization. As I write this 
introduction in the autumn of 2001 the world is apparently gearing up for WWIII. 
Running on emptiness, indeed. Interestingly, heads of states are referring to what is going 
on as a "clash of civilizations" — how true, for a change. The regimes currently 
challenging the West's supremacy are authoritarian entities no less civilized than 
capitalist America. The only differences between the combatants are down to access to 
resources, position in global power structures and technological sophistication. It's been 
going on like this for thousands of years. Even a cursory overview of history shows that 
as long as civilizations have existed they've made war on each other — always have, 
always will. As usual there will be no real revolutionary potential as both sides promote 
ideologies based on control, repression and fear. 

Current analysis of the situation barely scratch the surface, leaving the underlying causes 
for this persistent pattern of confrontation unexamined. America and its allies with their 
ahistorical blinders on arrogantly view Western civilization as invincible. Rest assured, 
so did the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Roman Emperors and the Ottoman Caliphs. . . but 
where are they now? Did the Mayan peasants or leaders envision their city-states 
someday covered by jungle (perhaps the peasants actually did, is that why it happened)? 
What do we really expect someplace like Manhattan or London will look like in 500, 
5,000, 50,000 years? The truth is that as long as skyscrapers, military industrial 
complexes, investment bankers and jet airplanes exist the possibility exists they'll collide. 
It was inevitable that one day the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as physical 
manifestations of imperialist America's economic power and military might would 
someday lie in ruins. It has just happened sooner rather than later. In light of recent 
events it seems more important than ever to reflect on what is at the foundation of this 
clash of civilizations and John Zerzan' s work provides an important starting point. 

Our general understanding of ways of life in the past has been radically altered from the 
once dominant Hobbesian view of pre-civilized life as nasty, brutish and short, when 
civilization was thought to be a necessary condition for making us better humans. 
Rethinking the characteristics of the categories of primitive vs. modern is one of the main 

themes of the opening essays which address, in various terms, the failures of symbolic 
thought. As Zerzan argues, when we removed ourselves from the direct experience of die 
sensual world through reification, time and language we became less stimulated by our 
senses. As we immerse ourselves in the world of objectification and abstraction, we see 
the triumph of the symbols for reality over the reality of experience itself. 

The false consciousness of symbolic representation and its consequences are evidenced in 
the domination of nature, division of labor, co-ordination of action, standardization of 
technique, institution of social and ritual rules and finally, industrial behavior. It is this 
constellation of cultural practices that precipitated, as Zerzan writes, "the fall from 
simplicity and fullness of life directly experienced" resulting in the alienated society in 
which we now live. By seeking to understand the process by which this came about, 
Zerzan continues his anarcho-primitivist project of demystifying this alienation, speaking 
in terms of watershed events, moments where decisions were made, cultures chose paths, 
resistance to the civilizing impulses was overcome and the next stage of the 
domestication of humans and of nature was attained. It is an accumulation that buries 
each stage under the rubble of ideology and legitimization so that one sees only the 
surface with eyes conditioned by alienated existence. 

It is undeniable that modern socio-political organization, material culture and resource 
distribution has become so complicated that scholars in any field of study would be hard 
pressed to make sense of the root causes or potential effects. But should this preclude us 
from trying? In the part of North America where Zerzan lives small groups of egalitarian, 
stone-age hunter-gatherers were getting along just fine until confronted by the first 
Europeans less than 200 years ago. Now wage slaves there pay taxes, drive to work in 
cars and return to electrified homes at night to check email on computers and watch 
satellite TV reports on cloning. How did this happen? 

Working as an archaeologist for the last decade, I've observed firsthand how 14,000 
years of continuous Native American occupation left the scant legacy of ephemeral 
hearth features, delicate spear points and broken pieces of pottery prehistoric 
archaeologists study. But what lies on the land now, after only a few hundred years since 
colonization and industrialization? . . . superfund sites, nuclear warheads, factory farms, 
denuded forests, poisoned rivers and dying industrial towns with already crumbling 
inner-cities. Archaeologists recognize how all this alteration of matter our society 
engages in now is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the distribution and essential 
durability of the composite materials modern technology is capable of creating. One thing 
archaeology demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt is that there is no such thing as 
"away" when one speaks about throwing things like arrowheads, broken dishes, glass, 
spent nuclear fuel, asphalt, refrigerators, autos, computers, diapers away. What is going 
to be the fate of all these concrete, plastic, metal, toxic, complicated, real, material, 
empirical objects our modern material culture produces? It appears that most people 
operate under the mistaken impression that these things our culture is so busy making are 
going to be functioning "forever," or at least a modified version of them will be. 
Archaeologists know that's not likely to be true and we confront the enormity of this 
realization every day. The simple truth is that every generation of humans to come is 

going to have to deal with the complex social and environmental impacts of our modern 

Zerzan should really be commended for his efforts toward taking the data and theory 
being produced by archaeologists and trying to make it relevant to us in the real world. It 
is possible to construct some very cogent arguments against civilization using worldwide 
archaeological research as evidence, as Zerzan demonstrates. Archaeologists themselves 
could become very effective social critics of rampant technological change, hierarchical 
class systems and unsustainable industrial development if they chose to interpret the 
evidence they study in such a light. By focusing on certain issues addressed in 
archaeological theory like the effects of over-exploitation of resources surrounding 
human habitations, the outcomes of increasing social stratification, the consequences of 
proliferating complexity in material culture and resource distribution, the potential for 
conflicts as a result of scarcity, etc., one can come to some very different conclusions 
about the wisdom of the pro-technology, pro-industrial agenda the dominant forces in 
Western culture have deemed progressive and in the global society's best interest. 

Unfortunately my academic colleagues are reluctant to engage in the kind of political 
debate Zerzan is trying to start, yet I know that none in the field could deny that all of the 
so-called achievements of man are only monuments to overwhelming pride and hubris, as 
he so plainly argues. Everybody, not just the archaeologists, knows people managed to 
live perfectly fine for thousands of years without electricity or automobiles — what better 
evidence than that can you have that it is possible? It is our involvement in society that 
creates the false perception of such needs. Here the Green Anarchist tendencies expressed 
in the AP analysis emerge as the remnants of a bygone consciousness with the potential 
to re-awaken the immediacy of life and the affinity with wild nature that humanity 
experienced in pre-civilization. 

Zerzan has written in great detail about how technology now props up the totalizing 
system of capital that has emptied the meaning from everyday life. While Zerzan has 
much in common with other contemporary critics of technology such as Ellul, Marcuse 
and Adorno, he is unwilling to let this domination of the machine over our daily lives go 
unchallenged. The fact that he had enough guts to be the lone voice of dissent in front of 
an audience of technology cheerleaders at Stanford University is telling of how he views 
his work. Insisting technology is neutral, like many anarchists do, allows one to avoid 
demonstrating it is positive or negative. The armed-to-the-teeth U.S. Right says, "guns 
don't kill people, people kill people" but obviously if guns didn't exist no one would be 
killed by guns. Guns are not neutral; they are weapons of death when they are used at all. 
Neither is technology neutral; one can cite a multitude of ways our commitment to 
keeping the technoindustrial system in running order exerts insidious control over our 
daily lives. Technology assists the state in its repression of dissent, decreases human 
freedom and happiness, destroys the natural world and turns all of us into biomechanical 
appendages of the megamachine. 

The dual commodification of labor and of time, as Zerzan points out, is relentless and he 
calls for a negative reconsideration of time from its initial role as a socially learned 

symbolic abstraction through to the notion of linear time and progress to the 
subordination of the working class where time is money. Time's reckoning alienates us 
from the present and from experiencing the rich wholeness of unmediated existence, 
separating humans from the ebb and flow of being by mathematizing our very being with 
its all consuming measuring presence and insistence on perfect and universal ordering. 

In the middle section of essays Zerzan addresses postmodernism. His critique of radical 
relativist tendencies is much needed and compelling. He begins with an explanation of 
why he hates Star Trek and finishes with a swat at post-modern intellectual ostriches 
"confident to only contemplate what appears within their limited field of vision, ignoring 
the past and present in favor of the always tentative and mostly uncritical examination of 
the parochial and the particular and rejoicing in its own depthlessness." The essay on how 
PBS "programming" (the very word!) leads us all toward a more manageable society 
does much to undermine its public-interest pretense by highlighting how well the content 
suits those who maintain the system of class and capital. Picking up on the popular 
media's christening of the youth of the '90s as the generation "that couldn't care less" JZ 
comments on how our age of nihilism, post-modernism's essential accomplice, is 
evidence of the widespread social pathology of civilization. 

While post-modernism has indeed become very adept at deconstruction Zerzan is correct 
to argue it fails miserably as a philosophical discourse when, overwhelmed by the 
complexity of history and society, it proclaims "Why bother with truth if nothing can be 
done about reality anyway." His scathing critique of nihilist post-modernism would send 
shudders down the spines of leftist academics if they had any. And speaking of leftist 
academics, Zerzan asks in one essay, "Who is Noam Chomsky?" Well, not an anarchist 
anyway ... a left-leaning professor with little time for questioning authority, technology or 
anything as radical as that, perhaps? And "Who is Hakim Bey?" A hip PM cynic 
evidently happy with the totality of oppression and its physical manifestation technology, 
perhaps? Zerzan slices through Bey's thick anti-primitivist rhetoric to reveal a thinly 
veiled racket in Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone spiel. Several of the essays address 
what lengths the ruling order will go to deny reality, e.g. a modern psychiatry that ignores 
the very real strains and stresses of life in the technoindustrial prison. In preferring to 
treat the individual as in need of re-programming to better meet the requirements of the 
system that oppresses rather than encouraging efforts toward liberation the profession 
attempts to narcotize the populace into accepting their lot in life. It is a tactic that reduces 
human suffering to an aberration with biological or genetic roots and is a horrific 
example of the pathology of civilization. 

This collection also contains a series of short, sharp essays offering fresh perspectives on 
current events, e.g. the meaning of Waco and Jonestown and the reactionary response of 
leftists to the gauntlet thrown down in front of civilization by FC. The profound anti- 
civilization argument put forth in the anarchist essay Industrial Society and Its Future 
(the so-called Unabomber Manifesto) brought to mind attitudes held by many involved 
early on in the Earth First! movement who, like FC, realized it was industrial society 
itself that posed the most significant threat to Mother Earth and human freedom. It was 
disappointing to see how quickly vocal minorities within the radical green and the 

anarchist milieus sought to distance themselves from FCs campaign against the 
exploiters. Not Zerzan, though, and his support of Kaczynski has never wavered. 

Those who know him personally know John always talks with; people about his ideas, 
not to them. In "Enemy of the State," interviewer Derrick Jensen notes that Zerzan both 
defies the stereotype of the bomb-throwing anarchist and shrinks from the role of guru by 
refusing to play the wise old anarchist handing down pearls of wisdom. Their in-depth 
discussion offers clarification of some of the more general and persistent 
misunderstandings surrounding the anti-authoritarian, anti-civilization critique. Along 
with the autobiographical sketch, "So How Did You Become an Anarchist?" (a 
previously unpublished, welcome addition to this collection), these two pieces shed 
considerable light on the author's past and present. In writing about himself a perhaps 
overly modest Zerzan leaves much out, but does present a brief overview of his Catholic 
family roots, forays into the educational system, intellectual catalysts, social experiences 
with labor unions, the Situationists and various radical publications, his gradual embrace 
of anarchism, his relationship with Kaczynski and life in the anarchist community of 

Zerzan' s use of an academic (yet accessible) writing style and copious citations from 
primary research material means he is sometimes accused of asking a lot of the reader, as 
if presenting something as complex as an analysis of all of human history would ever be 
easy. No, he is not writing the "The History of Civilization for Dummies" — because he 
does not view his audience in those terms. But you don't have to have a Ph.D. in 
archaeology to understand the points Zerzan is making. Prehistory is all around us, it is 
there for everyone to observe and contemplate. Don't believe me? Please get up now and 
go gaze out of the nearest window for a moment. Imagine the same landscape there 
before you 10,000 years ago and just think about what the lives of the people living there 
would have been like. Turn off the radio and television, unplug the computer and the 
telephone, look past the concrete, tune out the noise of the traffic and visualize what it 
must have been like living in an ecologically sustainable, socially harmonious world. The 
question of how we got from the stone age to the space age should be of interest to all 
human inhabitants of planet earth. Zerzan argues that in understanding the primitive past 
we take the first step toward rejecting the pathological present and actualizing a future 
primitive. It is a radical idea that certainly deserves our consideration. 



viii Introduction, by Theresa Kintz 

1 Running on Emptiness: the Failure of Symbolic Thought 

17 Time and Its Discontents 

42 Against Technology 

53 That Thing We Do 

67 Enemy of the State 

95 Abstract Expressionism: Painting as Vision and Critique 

109 The Age of Nihilism 

115 Postscript to Future Primitive re the Transition 

120 Age of Grief 

124 In Memoriam 

132 Why I Hate Star Trek 

136 PBS, Power, and Postmodernism 

140 Who is Chomsky? 

144 "Hakim Bey," Postmodern "Anarchist" 

147 City of Light 

149 We All Live in Waco 

151 Whose Unabomber? 

1 56 Domestication News 

158 We Have to Dismantle All This 

161 He Means It. Do You? 

163 How Ruinous Does It Have to Get? 

165 How Postmodernism Greases the Rails 
168 So . . . How Did You Become an Anarchist? 
197 No Way Out? 
205 Bibliography 

Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic 


"If we do not 'come to our senses' soon, we will have permanently forfeited the chance of 

constructing any meaningful alternatives to the pseudo-existence which passes for life in 

our current 'Civilization of the Image.'" David Howes 

To what degree can it be said that we are really living? As the substance of culture seems 
to shrivel and offer less balm to troubled lives, we are led to look more deeply at our 
barren times. And to the place of culture itself in all this. 

An anguished Ted Sloan asks (1996), "What is the problem with modernity? Why do 
modern societies have such a hard time producing adults capable of intimacy, work, 
enjoyment, and ethical living? Why is it that signs of damaged life are so prevalent?" 
According to David Morris (1994), "Chronic pain and depression, often linked and 
occasionally even regarded as a single disorder, constitute an immense crisis at the center 
of postmodern life." We have cyberspace and virtual reality, instant computerized 
communication in the global village; and yet have we ever felt so impoverished and 

Just as Freud predicted that the fullness of civilization would mean universal neurotic 
unhappiness, anti-civilization currents are growing in response to the psychic 
immiseration that envelops us. Thus symbolic life, essence of civilization, now comes 
under fire. 

It may still be said that this most familiar, if artificial, element is the least understood, but 
felt necessity drives critique, and many of us feel driven to get to the bottom of a steadily 
worsening mode of existence. Out of a sense of being trapped and limited by symbols 
comes the thesis that the extent to which thought and emotion are tied to symbolism is the 
measure by which absence fills the inner world and destroys the outer world. 

We seem to have experienced a fall into representation, whose depths and consequences 
are only now being fully plumbed. In a fundamental sort of falsification, symbols at first 
mediated reality and then replaced it. At present we live within symbols to a greater 
degree than we do within our bodily selves or directly with each other. 

The more involved this internal representational system is, the more distanced we are 
from the reality around us. Other connections, other cognitive perspectives are inhibited, 
to say the least, as symbolic communication and its myriad representational devices have 
accomplished an alienation from and betrayal of reality. 

This coming between and concomitant distortion and distancing is ideological in a 
primary and original sense; every subsequent ideology is an echo of this one. Debord 
depicted contemporary society as exerting a ban on living in favor of its representation: 
images now in the saddle, riding life. But this is anything but a new problem. There is an 

imperialism or expansionism of culture from the beginning. And how much does it 
conquer? Philosophy today says that it is language that thinks and talks. But how much 
has this always been the case? Symbolizing is linear, successive, substitutive; it cannot be 
open to its whole object simultaneously. Its instrumental reason is just that: manipulative 
and seeking dominance. Its approach is "let a stand for b" instead of "let a be b." 
Language has its basis in the effort to conceptualize and equalize the unequal, thus 
bypassing the essence and diversity of a varied, variable richness. 

Symbolism is an extensive and profound empire, which reflects and makes coherent a 
world view, and is itself a world view based upon withdrawal from immediate and 
intelligible human meaning. 

James Shreeve, at the end of his Neanderthal Enigma (1995), provides a beautiful 
illustration of an alternative to symbolic being. Meditating upon what an earlier, non- 
symbolic consciousness might have been like, he calls forth important distinctions and 

...where the modern's gods might inhabit the land, the buffalo, or the blade of grass, the 
Neanderthal's spirit was the animal or the grass blade, the thing and its soul perceived as 
a single vital force, with no need to distinguish them with separate names. Similarly, the 
absence of artistic expression does not preclude the apprehension of what is artful about 
the world. Neanderthals did not paint their caves with the images of animals. But perhaps 
they had no need to distill life into representations, because its essences were already 
revealed to their senses. The sight of a running herd was enough to inspire a surging 
sense of beauty. They had no drums or bone flutes, but they could listen to the booming 
rhythms of the wind, the earth, and each other's heartbeats, and be transported." 
Rather than celebrate the cognitive communion with the world that Shreeve suggests we 
once enjoyed, much less embark on the project of seeking to recover it, the use of 
symbols is of course widely considered the hallmark of human cognition. Goethe said, 
"Everything is a symbol," as industrial capitalism, milestone of mediation and alienation, 
took off. At about the same time Kant decided that the key to philosophy lies in the 
answer to the question, "What is the ground of the relation of that in us which we call 
'representation' to the object?" Unfortunately, he divined for modern thought an 
ahistorical and fundamentally inadequate answer, namely that we are simply not 
constituted so as to be able to understand reality directly. Two centuries later (1981), 
Emmanuel Levinas came much closer to the mark with "Philosophy, in its very 
diachrony, is the consciousness of the breakup of consciousness." 

Eli Sagan (1985) spoke for countless others in declaring that the need to symbolize and 
live in a symbolic world is, like aggression, a human need so basic that "it can be denied 
only at the cost of severe psychic disorder." The need for symbols — and violence - did 
not always obtain, however. Rather, they have their origins in the thwarting and 
fragmenting of an earlier wholeness, in the process of domestication from which 
civilization issued. Apparently driven forward by a gradually quickening growth in the 
division of labor that began to take hold in the Upper Paleolithic, culture emerged as 
time, language, art, number, and then agriculture. 

The word culture derives from the Latin cultura, referring to cultivation of the soil; that 
is, to the domestication of plants and animals — and of ourselves in the bargain. A restless 
spirit of innovation and anxiety has largely been with us ever since, as continually 
changing symbolic modes seek to fix what cannot be redressed without rejecting the 
symbolic and its estranged world. 

Following Durkheim, Leslie White (1949) wrote, "Human behavior is symbolic behavior; 
symbolic behavior is human behavior. The symbol is the universe of humanity." It is past 
time to see such pronouncements as ideology, serving to shore up the elemental 
falsification underneath a virtually all-encompassing false consciousness. But if a fully 
developed symbolic world is not, in Northrop Frye's bald claim (1981), in sum "the 
charter of our freedom," anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1965) comes closer to the truth 
in saying that we are generally dependent on "the guidance provided by systems of 
significant symbols." Closer yet is Cohen (1974), who observed that "symbols are 
essential for the development and maintenance of social order." The ensemble of symbols 
represents the social order and the individual's place in it, a formulation that always 
leaves the genesis of this arrangement unquestioned. How did our behavior come to be 
aligned by symbolization? 

Culture arose and flourished via domination of nature, its growth a measure of that 
progressive mastery that unfolded with ever greater division of labor. Malinowski (1962) 
understood symbolism as the soul of civilization, chiefly in the form of language as a 
means of coordinating action or of standardizing technique, and providing rules for 
social, ritual, and industrial behavior. 

It is our fall from a simplicity and fullness of life directly experienced, from the sensuous 
moment of knowing, which leaves a gap that the symbolic can never bridge. This is what 
is always being covered over by layers of cultural consolations, civilized detouring that 
never recovers lost wholeness. In a very deep sense, only what is repressed is 
symbolized, because only what is repressed needs to be symbolized. The magnitude of 
symbolization testifies to how much has been repressed; buried, but possibly still 

Imperceptibly for a long while, most likely, division of labor very slowly advanced and 
eventually began to erode the autonomy of the individual and a face-to-face mode of 
social existence. The virus destined to become full-blown as civilization began in this 
way: a tentative thesis supported by all that victimizes us now. From initial alienation to 
advanced civilization, the course is marked by more and more reification, dependence, 
bureaucratization, spiritual desolation, and barren technicization. 

Little wonder that the question of the origin of symbolic thought, the very air of 
civilization, arises with some force. Why culture should exist in the first place appears, 
increasingly, a more apt way to put it. Especially given the enormous antiquity of human 
intelligence now established, chiefy from Thomas Wynn's persuasive demonstration 
(1989) of what it took to fashion the stone tools of about a million years ago. There was a 

very evident gap between established human capability and the initiation of symbolic 
culture, with many thousands of generations intervening between the two. 

Culture is a fairly recent affair. The oldest cave art, for example, is in the neighborhood 
of 30,000 years old, and agriculture only got underway about 10,000 years ago. The 
missing element during the vast interval between the time when I.Q. was available to 
enable symbolizing, and its realization, was a shift in our relationship to nature. It seems 
plausible to see in this interval, on some level that we will perhaps never fathom, a 
refusal to strive for mastery of nature. It may be that only when this striving for mastery 
was introduced, probably non-consciously, via a very gradual division of labor, did the 
symbolizing of experiences begin to take hold. 

But, it is so often argued, the violence of primitives - human sacrifice, cannibalism, head- 
hunting, slavery, etc. — can only be tamed by symbolic culture/civilization. The simple 
answer to this stereotype of the primitive is that organized violence was not ended by 
culture, but in fact commenced with it. William J. Perry (1927) studied various New 
World peoples and noted a striking contrast between an agricultural group and a 
nondomesticated group. He found the latter "greatly inferior in culture, but lacking [the 
former's] hideous customs." While virtually every society that adopted a domesticated 
relationship to nature, all over the globe, became subject to violent practices, the non- 
agricultural knew no organized violence. Anthropologists have long focused on the 
Northwest Coast Indians as a rare exception to this rule of thumb. Although essentially a 
fishing people, at a certain point they took slaves and established a very hierarchical 
society. Even here, however, domestication was present, in the form of tame dogs and 
tobacco as a minor crop. 

We succumb to objectification and let a web of culture control us and tell us how to live, 
as if this were a natural development. It is anything but that, and we should be clear about 
what culture/civilization has in fact given us, and what it has taken away. 

The philosopher Richard Rorty (1979) described culture as the assemblage of claims to 
knowledge. In the realm of symbolic being the senses are depreciated, because of their 
systematic separation and atrophy under civilization. The sensual is not considered a 
legitimate source of claims to truth. 

We humans once allowed a full and appreciative reception to the total sensory input, 
what is called in German umwelt, or the world around us. Heinz Werner (1940, 1963) 
argued that originally a single sense obtained, before divisions in society ruptured 
sensory unity. Surviving non-agricultural peoples often exhibit, in the interplay and 
interpenetration of the senses, a very much greater sensory awareness and involvement 
than do domesticated individuals (E. Carpenter 1980). Striking examples abound, such as 
the Bushmen, who can see four moons of Jupiter with the unaided eye and can hear a 
single-engine light plane seventy miles away (Farb 1978). 

Symbolic culture inhibits human communication by blocking and otherwise suppressing 
channels of sensory awareness. An increasingly technological existence compels us to 

tune out most of what we could experience. The William Blake declaration comes to 

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, 
infinite. For man has closed himself up, 'till he sees all things through narrow chinks of 
his cavern." 

Laurens van der Post (1958) described telepathic communication among the Kung in 
Africa, prompting Richard Coan (1987) to characterize such modes as "representing an 
alternative, rather than a prelude to the kind of civilization in which we live." 

In 1623 William Drummond wrote, "What sweet contentments doth the soul enjoy by the 
senses. They are the gates and windows of its knowledge, the organs of its delight." In 
fact, the "I," if not the "soul," doesn't exist in the absence of bodily sensations; there are 
no non-sensory conscious states. But it is all too evident how our senses have been 
domesticated in a symbolic cultural atmosphere: tamed, separated, arranged in a 
revealing hierarchy. Vision, under the sign of modern linear perspective, reigns because it 
is the least proximal, most distancing of the senses. It has been the means by which the 
individual has been transformed into a spectator, the world into a spectacle, and the body 
an object or specimen. The primacy of the visual is no accident, for an undue elevation of 
sight not only situates the viewer outside what he or she sees, but enables the principle of 
control or domination at base. Sound or hearing as the acme of the senses would be much 
less adequate to domestication because it surrounds and penetrates the speaker as well as 
the listener. 

Other sensual faculties are discounted far more. Smell, which loses its importance only 
when suppressed by culture, was once a vital means of connection with the world. The 
literature on cognition almost completely ignores the sense of smell, just as its role is now 
so circumscribed among humans. It is, after all, of little use for purposes of domination; 
considering how smell can so directly trigger even very distant memories, perhaps it is 
even a kind of anti-domination faculty. Lewis Thomas (1983) remarked that "The act of 
smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking itself." And if it isn't 
it very likely used to be and should be again. 

Tactile experiences or practices are another sensual area we have been expected to 
relinquish in favor of compensatory symbolic substitutes. The sense of touch has indeed 
been diminished in a synthetic, work-occupied, long-distance existence. There is little 
time for or emphasis on tactile stimulation or communication, even though such 
deprivation causes clearly negative outcomes. Nuances of sensitivity and tenderness 
become lost, and it is well known that infants and children who are seldom touched, 
carried and caressed are slow to develop and are often emotionally stunted. 

Touching by definition involves feeling; to be "touched" is to feel emotionally moved, a 
reminder of the earlier potency of the tactile sense, as in the expression "keep in touch." 
The lessening of this category of sensuousness, among the rest, has had momentous 
consequences. Its renewal, in a re-sensitized, reunited world, will bring a likewise 

momentous improvement in living. As Tommy cried out, in The Who's rock opera of the 
same name, "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me...." 

As with animals and plants, the land, the rivers, and human emotions, the senses come to 
be isolated and subdued. Aristotle's notion of a "proper" plan of the universe dictated that 
"each sense has its proper sphere." 

Freud, Marcuse and others saw that civilization demands the sublimation or repression of 
the pleasures of the proximity senses so that the individual can be thus converted to an 
instrument of labor. Social control, via the network of the symbolic, very deliberately 
disempowers the body. An alienated counter-world, driven on to greater estrangement by 
ever-greater division of labor, humbles one's own somatic sensations and fundamentally 
distracts from the basic rhythms of one's life. 

The definitive mind-body split, ascribed to Descartes' 17th century formulations, is the 
very hallmark of modern society. What has been referred to as the great "Cartesian 
anxiety" over the specter of intellectual and moral chaos, was resolved in favor of 
suppression of the sensual and passionate dimension of human existence. Again we see 
the domesticating urge underlying culture, the fear of not being in control, now indicting 
the senses with a vengeance. Henceforth science and technology have a theoretic license 
to proceed without limits, sensual knowledge having been effectively eradicated in terms 
of claims to truth or understanding. 

Seeing what this bargain has wrought, a deep-seated reaction is dawning against the vast 
symbolic enterprise that weighs us down and invades every part of us. "If we do not 
'come to our senses' soon," as David Howes (1991) judged, "we will have permanently 
forfeited the chance of constructing any meaningful alternatives to the pseudoexistence 
which passes for life in our current 'Civilization of the Image.'" The task of critique may 
be, most centrally, to help us see what it will take to reach a place in which we are truly 
present to each other and to the world. 

The first separation seems to have been the sense of time which brings a loss of being 
present to ourselves. The growth of this sense is all but indistinguishable from that of 
alienation itself. If, as Levi-Strauss put it, "the characteristic feature of the savage mind is 
its timelessness," living in the here and now becomes lost through the mediation of 
cultural interventions. Presentness is deferred by the symbolic, and this refusal of the 
contingent instant is the birth of time. We fall under the spell of what Eliade called the 
"terror of history" as representations effectively oppose the pull of immediate perceptual 

Mircea Eliade's Myth of the Eternal Return (1954) stresses the fear that all primitive 
societies have had of history, the passing of time. On the other hand, voices of 
civilization have tried to celebrate our immersion in this most basic cultural construct. 
Leroi-Gourhan (1964), for instance, saw in time orientation "perhaps the human act par 
excellence." Our perceptions have become so time-governed and time saturated that it is 

hard to imagine time's general absence: for the same reasons it is so difficult to see, at 
this point, a non-alienated, non-symbolic, undivided social existence. 

History, according to Peterson and Goodall (1993), is marked by an amnesia about where 
we came from. Their stimulating Visions of Caliban also pointed out that our great 
forgetting may well have begun with language, the originating device of the symbolic 
world. Comparative linguist Mary LeCron Foster (1978, 1980) believes that language is 
perhaps less than 50,000 years old and arose with the first impulses toward art, ritual and 
social differentiation. Verbal symbolizing is the principal means of establishing, defining, 
and maintaining the cultural world and of structuring our very thinking. 

As Hegel said somewhere, to question language is to question being. It is very important, 
however, to resist such overstatements and see the distinction, for one thing, between the 
cultural importance of language and its inherent limitations. To hold that we and the 
world are but linguistic creations is just another way of saying how pervasive and 
controlling is symbolic culture. But Hegel's claim goes much too far, and George Herbert 
Mead's assertion (1934) that to have a mind one must have a language is similarly 
hyperbolic and false. 

Language transforms meaning and commumcation but is not synonymous with them. 
Thought, as Vendler (1967) understood, is essentially independent of language. Studies 
of patients and others lacking all aspects of speech and language demonstrate that the 
intellect remains powerful even in the absence of those elements (Lecours and Joanette 
1980; Donald 1991). The claim that language greatly facilitates thought is likewise 
questionable, inasmuch as formal experiments with children and adults have not 
demonstrated it (G. Cohen 1977). Language is clearly not a necessary condition for 
thinking (see Kertesz 1988, Jansons 1988). 

Verbal communication is part of the movement away from a face-to-face social reality, 
making feasible physical separateness. The word always stands between people who wish 
to connect with each other, facilitating the diminution of what need not be spoken to be 
said. That we have declined from a non-linguistic state begins to appear a sane point of 
view. This intuition may lie behind George W. Morgan's 1968 judgment that "Nothing, 
indeed, is more subject to depreciation and suspicion in our disenchanted world than the 

Communication outside civilization involved all the senses, a condition linked to the key 
gatherer-hunter traits of openness and sharing. Literacy ushered us into the society of 
divided and reduced senses, and we take this sensory deprivation for granted as if it were 
a natural state, just as we take literacy for granted. 

Culture and technology exist because of language. Many have seen speech, in turn, as a 
means of coordinating labor, that is, as an essential part of the technique of production. 
Language is critical for the formation of the rules of work and exchange accompanying 
division of labor, with the specializations and standardizations of nascent economy 
paralleling those of language. Now guided by symbolization, a new kind of thinking 

takes over, which realizes itself in culture and technology. The interdependence of 
language and technology is at least as obvious as that of language and culture, and results 
in an accelerating mastery over the natural world intrinsically similar to the control 
introduced over the once autonomous and sensuous individual. 

Noam Chomsky, chief language theorist, commits a grave and reactionary error by 
portraying language as a "natural" aspect of "essential human nature," innate and 
independent of culture (1966b, 1992). His Cartesian perspective sees the mind as an 
abstract machine which is simply destined to turn out strings of symbols and manipulate 
them. Concepts like origins or alienation have no place in this barren techno-schema. 
Lieberman (1975) provides a concise and fundamental correction: "Human language 
could have evolved only in relation to the total human condition." 

The original sense of the word define is, from Latin, to limit or bring to an end. Language 
seems often to close an experience, not to help ourselves be open to experience. When we 
dream, what happens is not expressed in words, just as those in love communicate most 
deeply without verbal symbolizing. What has been advanced by language that has really 
advanced the human spirit? In 1976, von Glasersfeld wondered "whether, at some future 
time, it will still seem so obvious that language has enhanced the survival of life on this 

Numerical symbolism is also of fundamental importance to the development of a cultural 
world. In many primitive societies it was and is considered unlucky to count living 
creatures, an anti-reification attitude related to the common primitive notion that to name 
another is to gain power over that person. Counting, like naming, is part of the 
domestication process. Division of labor lends itself to the quantifiable, as opposed to 
what is whole in itself, unique, not fragmented. Number is also necessary for the 
abstraction inherent in the exchange of commodities and is prerequisite to the take-off of 
science and technology. The urge to measure involves a deformed kind of knowledge that 
seeks control of its object, not understanding. 

The sentiment that "the only way we truly apprehend things is through art" is a 
commonplace opinion, one which underlines our dependence on symbols and 
representation. "The fact that originally all art was 'sacred'" (Eliade, 1985), that is, 
belonging to a separate sphere, testifies to its original status or function. 

Art is among the earliest forms of ideological and ritual expressiveness, developed along 
with religious observances designed to hold together a communal life that was beginning 
to fragment. It was a key means of facilitating social integration and economic 
differentiation (Dickson, 1990), probably by encoding information to register 
membership, status, and position (Lumsden and Wilson 1983). Prior to this time, 
somewhere during the Upper Paleolithic, devices for social cohesion were unnecessary; 
division of labor, separate roles, and territoriality seem to have been largely non-existent. 
As tensions and anxieties started to emerge in social life, art and the rest of culture arose 
with them in answer to their disturbing presence. 

Art, like religion, arose from the original sense of disquiet, no doubt subtly but 
powerfully disturbing in its newness and its encroaching gradualness. In 1900 Hirn wrote 
of an early dissatisfaction that motivated the artistic search for a "fuller and deeper 
expression" as "compensation for new deficiencies of life." Cultural solutions, however, 
do not address the deeper dislocations that cultural "solutions" are themselves part of. 
Conversely, as commentators as diverse as Henry Miller and Theodor Adorno have 
concluded, there would be no need of art in a disalienated world. What art has 
ineffectively striven to capture and express would once again be a reality, the false 
antidote of culture forgotten. 

Art is a language and so, evidently, is ritual, among the earliest cultural and symbolic 
institutions. Julia Kristeva (1989) commented on "the close relation of grammar to 
ritual," and Frits Staal's studies of Vedic ritual (1982,1986,1988) demonstrated to him 
that syntax can completely explain the form and meaning of ritual. As Chris Knight 
(1996) noted, speech and ritual are "interdependent aspects of one and the same symbolic 

Essential for the breakthrough of the cultural in human affairs, ritual is not only a means 
of aligning or prescribing emotions; it is also a formalization that is intimately linked 
with hierarchies and formal rule over individuals. All known tribal societies and early 
civilizations had hierarchical organizations built on or bound up with a ritual structure 
and matching conceptual system. 

Examples of the link between ritual and inequality, developing even prior to agriculture, 
are widespread (Gans 1985, Conkey 1984). Rites serve a safety valve function for the 
discharge of tensions generated by emerging divisions in society and work to create and 
maintain social cohesion. Earlier on there was no need of devices to unify what was, in a 
non-division of labor context, still whole and unstratified. 

It has often been said that the function of the symbol is to disclose structures of the real 
that are inaccessible to empirical observation. More to the point, in terms of the processes 
of culture and civilization, however, is Abner Cohen's contention (1981, 1993) that 
symbolism and ritual disguise, mystify and sanctify irksome duties and roles and thus 
make them seem desirable. Or, as David Parkin (1992) put it, the compulsory nature of 
ritual blunts the natural autonomy of individuals by placing them at the service of 

Ostensibly opposed to estrangement, the counterworld of public rites is arrayed against 
the current of historical direction. But, again, this is a delusion, since ritual facilitates the 
establishment of the cultural order, bedrock of alienated theory and practice. Ritual 
authority structures play an important part in the organization of production (division of 
labor) and actively further the coming of domestication. Symbolic categories are set up to 
control the wild and alien; thus the domination of women proceeds, a development 
brought to full realization with agriculture, when women become essentially beasts of 
burden and/or sexual objects. Part of this fundamental shift is movement toward 
territorialism and warfare; Johnson and Earle (1987) discussed the correspondence 

between this movement and the increased importance of ceremonialism. 

According to James Shreeve (1995), "In the ethnographic record, wherever you get 
inequality, it is justified by invoking the sacred." Relatedly, all symbolism, says Eliade 
(1985), was originally religious symbolism. Social inequality seems to be accompanied 
by subjugation in the non-human sphere. M. Reinach (quoted in Radin, 1927) said, 
"thanks to magic, man takes the offensive against the objective world." Cassirer (1955) 
phrased it this way: "Nature yields nothing without ceremonies." 

Out of ritual action arose the shaman, who was not only the first specialist because of his 
or her role in this area, but the first cultural practitioner in general. The earliest art was 
accomplished by shamans, as they assumed ideological leadership and designed the 
content of rituals. 

This original specialist became the regulator of group emotions, and as the shaman's 
potency increased, there was a corresponding decrease in the psychic vitality of the rest 
of the group (Lommel, 1967). Centralized authority, and most likely religion too, grew 
out of the elevated position of the shaman. The specter of social complexity was 
incarnated in this individual who wielded symbolic power. Every head man and chief 
developed from the primacy of this figure in the lives of others in the group. 

Religion, like art, contributed to a common symbolic grammar needed by the new social 
order and its fissures and anxieties. The word is based on the Latin religare, to tie or bind, 
and a Greek verbal stem denoting attentiveness to ritual, faithfulness to rules. Social 
integration, required for the first time, is evident as impetus to religion. 

It is the answer to insecurities and tensions, promising resolution and transcendence by 
means of the symbolic. Religion finds no basis for its existence prior to the wrong turn 
taken toward culture and the civilized (domesticated). The American philosopher George 
Santayana summed it up well with, "Another world to live in is what we mean by 

Since Darwin's Descent of Man (1871) we have understood that human evolution greatly 
accelerated culturally at a time of insignificant physiological change. Thus symbolic 
being did not depend on waiting for the right gifts to evolve. We can now see, with Clive 
Gamble (1994), that intention in human action did not arrive with 

The native denizens of Africa's Kalahari Desert, as studied by Laurens van der Post 
(1976), lived in "a state of complete trust, dependence and interdependence with nature," 
which was "far kinder to them than any civilization ever was." Egalitarianism and sharing 
were the hallmark qualities of hunter-gatherer life (G. Isaac 1976, Ingold 1987, 1988, 
Erdal and Whiten 1992, etc.), which is more accurately called gatherer-hunter life, or the 
foraging mode. In fact, the great bulk of this diet consisted of plant material, and there is 
no conclusive evidence for hunting at all prior to the Upper Paleolithic (Binford 

An instructive look at contemporary primitive societies is Colin Turnbull's work (1961, 
1965) on pygmies of the Ituri forest and their Bantu neighbors. The pygmies are foragers, 
living with no religion or culture. They are seen as immoral and ignorant by the 
agriculturalist Bantu, but enjoy much greater individualism and freedom. To the 
annoyance of the Bantu, the pygmies irreverently mock the solemn rites of the latter and 
their sense of sin. Rejecting territorialism, much less private holdings, they "move freely 
in an uncharted, unsystematized, unbounded social world," according to Mary Douglas 

The vast era prior to the coming of symbolic being is an enormously prominent reality 
and a question mark to some. Commenting on this "period spanning more than a million 
years," Tim Ingold (1993) called it "one of the most profound enigmas known to 
archaeological science." But the longevity of this stable, non-cultural epoch has a simple 
explanation: as F. Goodman (1988) surmised, "It was such a harmonious existence, and 
such a successful adaptation, that it did not materially alter for many thousands of years." 

Culture triumphed at last with domestication. The scope of life became narrower, more 
specialized, forcibly divorced from its previous grace and spontaneous liberty. The 
assault of a symbolic orientation upon the natural also had immediate outward results. 
Early rock drawings, found 125 miles from the nearest recorded trickle of water in the 
Sahara, show people swimming. Elephants were still somewhat common in some coastal 
Mediterranean zones in 500 B.C., wrote Herodotus. Historian Clive Ponting (1992) has 
shown that every civilization has diminished the health of its environment. 

And cultivation definitely did not provide a higher-quality or more reliable food base 
(M.N. Cohen 1989, Walker and Shipman 1996), though it did introduce diseases of all 
kinds, almost completely unknown outside civilization (Burkett 1978, Freund 1982), and 
sexual inequality (M. Ehrenberg 1989b, A. Getty 1996). Frank Waters' Book of the Hopi 
(1963) gives us a stunning picture of unchecked division of labor and the poverty of the 
symbolic: "More and more they traded for things they didn't need, and the more goods 
they got, the more they wanted. This was very serious. For they did not realize they were 
drawing away, step by step, from the good life given them." 

A pertinent chapter from The Time Before History (1996) by Colin Tudge bears a title 
that speaks volumes, "The End of Eden: Farming." Much of an underlying 
epistemological distinction is revealed in this contrast by Ingold (1993): "In short, 
whereas for farmers and herdsmen the tool is an instrument of control, for hunters and 
gatherers it would better be regarded as an instrument of revelation." And Horkheimer 
(1972) bears quoting, in terms of the psychic cost of domestication/domination of nature: 
"the destruction of the inner life is the penalty man has to pay for having no respect for 
any life other than his own." Violence directed outward is at the same time inflicted 
spiritually, and the outside world becomes transformed, debased, as surely as the 
perceptual field was subjected to fundamental redefinition. Nature certainly did not 
ordain civilization; quite the contrary. 

Today it is fashionable, if not mandatory, to maintain that culture always was and always 
will be. Even though it is demonstrably the case that there was an extremely long non- 
symbolic human era, perhaps one hundred times as long as that of civilization, and that 
culture has gained only at the expense of nature, one has it from all sides that the 
symbolic — like alienation — is eternal. Thus questions of origins and destinations are 
meaningless. Nothing can be traced further than the semiotic in which everything is 

But the limits of the dominant rationality and the costs of civilization are too starkly 
visible for us to accept this kind of cop-out. Since the ascendance of the symbolic humans 
have been trying, through participation in culture, to recover an authenticity we once 
lived. The constant urge or quest for the transcendent testifies that the hegemony of 
absence is a cultural constant. As Thomas McFarland (1987) found, "culture primarily 
witnesses the absence of meaning, not its presence." 

Massive, unfulfilling consumption, within the dictates of production and social control, 
reigns as the chief everyday consolation for this absence of meaning, and culture is 
certainly itself a prime consumer choice. At base, it is division of labor that ordains our 
false and disabling symbolic totality. "The increase in specialization...," wrote Peter 
Lomas (1996), "undermines our confidence in our ordinary capacity to live." 

We are caught in the cultural logic of objectification and the objectifying logic of culture, 
such that those who counsel new ritual and other representational forms as the route to a 
re-enchanted existence miss the point completely. More of what has failed for so long can 
hardly be the answer. Levi-Strauss (1978) referred to "a kind of wisdom [that primitive 
peoples] practiced spontaneously and the rejection of which, by the modern world, is the 
real madness." 

Either the non-symbolizing health that once obtained, in all its dimensions, or, madness 
and death. Culture has led us to betray our own aboriginal spirit and wholeness, into an 
everworsening realm of synthetic, isolating, impoverished estrangement. Which is not to 
say that there are no more everyday pleasures, without which we would lose our 
humanness. But as our plight deepens, we glimpse how much must be erased for our 


The dimension of time seems to be attracting great notice, to judge from the number of 
recent movies that focus on it, such as Back to the Future, Terminator, Peggy Sue Got 
Married, etc. Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time (1989) was a best-seller and 
became, even more surprisingly, a popular film. Remarkable, in addition to the number of 
books that deal with time, are the larger number which don't, really, but which feature the 
word in their titles nonetheless, such as Virginia Spate's The Color of Time: Claude 
Monet (1992). Such references have to do, albeit indirectly, with the sudden, panicky 
awareness of time, the frightening sense of our being tied to it. Time is increasingly a key 
manifestation of the estrangement and humiliation that characterize modern existence. It 
illuminates the entire, deformed landscape and will do so ever more harshly until this 
landscape and all the forces that shape it are changed beyond recognizing. 

This contribution to the subject has little to do with time's fascination for film-makers or 
TV producers, or with the current academic interest in geologic conceptions of time, the 
history of clock technology and the sociology of time, or with personal observations and 
counsels on its use. Neither aspects nor excesses of time deserve as much attention as 
time's inner meaning and logic. For despite the fact that time's perplexing character has 
become, in John Michon's estimation, "almost an intellectual obsession" (1988), society 
is plainly incapable of dealing with it. 

With time we confront a philosophical enigma, a psychological mystery, and a puzzle of 
logic. Not surprisingly, considering the massive reification involved, some have doubted 
its existence since humanity began distinguishing "time itself" from visible and tangible 
changes in the world. As Michael Ende (1984) put it: "There is in the world a great and 
yet ordinary secret. All of us are part of it, everyone is aware of it, but very few ever 
think of it. Most of us just accept it and never wonder over it. This secret is time." 

Just what is "time"? Spengler declared that no one should be allowed to ask. The 
physicist Richard Feynman (1988) answered, "Don't even ask me. It's just too hard to 
think about." Empirically as much as in theory, the laboratory is powerless to reveal the 
flow of time, since no instrument exists that can register its passage. But why do we have 
such a strong sense that time does pass, ineluctably and in one particular direction, if it 
really doesn't? Why does this "illusion" have such a hold over us? We might just as well 
ask why alienation has such a hold over us. The passage of time is intimately familiar, the 
concept of time mockingly elusive; why should this appear bizarre, in a world whose 
survival depends on the mystification of its most basic categories? 

We have gone along with the substantiation of time so that it seems a fact of nature, a 
power existing in its own right. The growth of a sense of time— the acceptance of time— is 
a process of adaptation to an ever more reified world. It is a constructed dimension, the 
most elemental aspect of culture. Time's inexorable nature provides the ultimate model of 

The further we go in time the worse it gets. We inhabit an age of the disintegration of 
experience, according to Adorno. The pressure of time, like that of its essential 
progenitor, division of labor, fragments and disperses all before it. Uniformity, 
equivalence, separation are byproducts of time's harsh force. The intrinsic beauty and 
meaning of that fragment of the world that is not-yet- culture moves steadily toward 
annihilation under a single cultures-wide clock. Paul Ricoeur's assertion (1985) that "we 
are not capable of producing a concept of time that is at once cosmological, biological, 
historical and individual," fails to notice how they are converging. 

Concerning this "fiction" that upholds and accompanies all the forms of imprisonment, 
"the world is filled with propaganda alleging its existence," as Bernard Aaronson (1972) 
put it so well. "All awareness," wrote the poet Denise Levertov (1974), "is an awareness 
of time," showing just how deeply alienated we are in time. We have become regimented 
under its empire, as time and alienation continue to deepen their intrusion, their 
debasement of everyday life. "Does this mean," as David Carr (1988) asks, "that the 
"struggle' of existence is to overcome time itself?" It may be that exactly this is the last 
enemy to be overcome. 

In coming to grips with this ubiquitous yet phantom adversary, it is somewhat easier to 
say what time is not. It is not synonymous, for fairly obvious reasons, with change. Nor is 
it sequence, or order of succession. Pavlov's dog, for instance, must have learned that the 
sound of the bell was followed by feeding; how else could it have been conditioned to 
salivate at that sound? But dogs do not possess time consciousness, so before and after 
cannot be said to constitute time. 

Somewhat related are inadequate attempts to account for our all but inescapable sense of 
time. The neurologist Gooddy (1988), rather along the lines of Kant, describes it as one 
of our "subconscious assumptions about the world." Some have described it, no more 
helpfully, as a product of the imagination, and the philosopher J.J.C. Smart (1980) 
decided that it is a feeling that "arises out of metaphysical confusion." McTaggart 
(1908), F.H. Bradley (1930), and Dummett (1978) have been among 20th century 
thinkers who have decided against the existence of time because of its logically 
contradictory features, but it seems fairly plain that the presence of time has far deeper 
causes than mere mental confusion. 

There is nothing even remotely similar to time. It is as unnatural and yet as universal as 
alienation. Chacalos (1988) points out that the present is a notion just as puzzling and 
intractable as time itself. What is the present? We know that it is always now; one is 
confined to it, in an important sense, and can experience no other "part" of time. We 
speak confidently of other parts, however, which we call "past" and "future." But 
whereas things that exist in space elsewhere than here continue to exist, things that don't 
exist now, as Sklar (1992) observes, don't really exist at all. 

Time necessarily flows; without its passage there would be no sense of time. Whatever 
flows, though, flows with respect to time. Time therefore flows with respect to itself, 
which is meaningless owing to the fact that nothing can flow with respect to itself. No 

vocabulary is available for the abstract explication of time apart from a vocabulary in 
which time is already presupposed. What is necessary is to put all the givens into 
question. Metaphysics, with a narrowness that division of labor has imposed from its 
inception, is too narrow for such a task. 

What causes time to flow, what is it that moves it toward the future? Whatever it is, it 
must be beyond our time, deeper and more powerful. It must depend as Conly (1975) had 
it, "upon elemental forces which are continually in operation." 

William Spanos (1987) has noted that certain Latin words for culture not only signify 
agriculture or domestication, but are translations from Greek terms for the spatial image 
of time. We are, at base, "time-binders", in Alfred Korzybski's lexicon (1948); the 
species, due to this characteristic, creates a symbolic class of life, an artificial world. 
Time-binding reveals itself in an "enormous increase in the control over nature." Time 
becomes real because it has consequences, and this efficacy has never been more 
painfully apparent. 

Life, in its barest outline, is said to be a journey through time; that it is a journey through 
alienation is the most public of secrets. "No clock strikes for the happy one," says a 
German proverb. Passing time, once meaningless, is now the inescapable beat, restricting 
and coercing us, mirroring blind authority itself. Guyau (1890) determined the flow of 
time to be "the distinction between what one needs and what one has," and therefore 
"the incipience of regret." Carpe diem, the maxim counsels, but civilization forces us 
always to mortgage the present to the future. 

Time aims continually toward greater strictness of regularity and universality. Capital's 
technological world charts its progress by this, could not exist in its absence. "The 
importance of time," wrote Bertrand Russell (1929), lies "rather in relation to our desires 
than in relation to truth." There is a longing that is as palpable as time has become. The 
denial of desire can be gauged no more definitively than via the vast construct we call 

Time, like technology, is never neutral; it is, as Castoriadis (1991) rightly judged, 
"always endowed with meaning." Everything that commentators like Ellul have said 
about technology, in fact, applies to time, and more deeply. Both conditions are 
pervasive, omnipresent, basic, and in general as taken for granted as alienation itself. 
Time, like technology, is not only a determining fact but also the enveloping element in 
which divided society develops. Similarly, it demands that its subjects be painstaking, 
"realistic", serious, and above all, devoted to work. It is autonomous in its overall aspect, 
like technology; it goes on forever of its own accord. 

But like division of labor, which stands behind and sets in motion time and technology, it 
is, after all, a socially learned phenomenon. Humans, and the rest of the world, are 
synchronized to time and its technical embodiment, rather than the reverse. Central to this 
dimension— as it is to alienation per se— is the feeling of being a helpless spectator. Every 

rebel, it follows, also rebels against time and its relentlessness. Redemption must involve, 
in a very fundamental sense, redemption from time. 

Time and the Symbolic World 

"Time is the accident of accidents," according to Epicurus. Upon closer examination, 
however, its genesis appears less mysterious. It has occurred to many, in fact, that notions 
such as "the past," "the present," and "the future" are more linguistic than actual or 
physical. The neo-Freudian theorist Lacan, for example, decided that the time experience 
is essentially an effect of language. A person with no language would likely have no 
sense of the passage of time. R.A. Wilson (1980), moving much closer to the point, 
suggested that language was initiated by the need to express symbolic time. Gosseth 
(1972) argued that the system of tenses found in Indo-European languages developed 
along with consciousness of a universal or abstract time. Time and language are 
coterminous, decided Derrida (1982): "to be in the one is to be in the other." Time is a 
symbolic construct immediately prior, relatively speaking, to all the others and which 
requires language for its actualization. 

Paul Valry (1962) referred to the fall of the species into time as signaling alienation from 
nature; "by a sort of abuse, man creates time," he wrote. In the timeless epoch before this 
fall, which constituted the overwhelming majority of our existence as humans, life, as has 
often been said, had a rhythm but not a progression. It was the state when the soul could 
"gather in the whole of its being," in Rousseau's words, in the absence of temporal 
strictures, "where time is nothing to the soul." Activities themselves, usually of a 
leisurely character, were the points of reference before time and civilization; nature 
provided the necessary signals, quite independent of "time". Humanity must have been 
conscious of memories and purposes long before any explicit distinctions were drawn 
among past, present, and future (Fraser, 1988). Furthermore, as the linguist Whorf (1956) 
estimated, "preliterate ['primitive'] communities, far from being subrational, may show 
the human mind functioning on a higher and more complex plane of rationality than 
among civilized men." 

The largely hidden key to the symbolic world is time; indeed it is at the origin of human 
symbolic activity. Time thus occasions the first alienation, the route away from aboriginal 
richness and wholeness. "Out of the simultaneity of experience, the event of Language," 
says Charles Simic (1971), "is an emergence into linear time." Researchers such as Zohar 
(1982) consider faculties of telepathy and precognition to have been sacrificed for the 
sake of evolution into symbolic life. If this sounds far-fetched, the sober positivist Freud 
(1932) viewed telepathy as quite possibly "the original archaic means through which 
individuals understand one another." If the perception and apperception of time relate to 
the very essence of cultural life (Gurevich 1976), the advent of this time sense and its 
concomitant culture represent an impoverishment, even a disfigurement, by time. 

The consequences of this intrusion of time, via language, indicate that the latter is no 
more innocent, neutral, or assumption-free than the former. Time is not only, as Kant 
said, at the foundation of all our representations, but, by this fact, also at the foundation 

of our adaptation to a qualitatively reduced, symbolic world. Our experience in this world 
is under an all-pervasive pressure to be representation, to be almost unconsciously 
degraded into symbols and measurements. "Time", wrote the German mystic Meister 
Eckhart, "is what keeps the light from reaching us." 

Time awareness is what empowers us to deal with our environment symbolically; there is 
no time apart from this estrangement. It is by means of progressive symbolization that 
time becomes naturalized, becomes a given, is removed from the sphere of conscious 
cultural production. "Time becomes human in the measure to which it becomes 
actualized in narrative," is another way of putting it (Ricoeur 1984). The symbolic 
accretions in this process constitute a steady throttling of instinctive desire; repression 
develops the sense of time unfolding. Immediacy gives way, replaced by the mediations 
that make history possible— language in the forefront. 

One begins to see past such banalities as "time is an incomprehensible quality of the 
given world" (Sebba 1991). Number, art, religion make their appearances in this "given" 
world, disembodied phenomena of reified life. These emerging rites, in turn, Gurevitch 
(1964) surmises, lead to "the production of new symbolic contents, thus encouraging 
time leaping forward." Symbols, including time, of course, now have lives of their own, 
in this cumulative, interacting progression. David Braine's The Reality of Time and the 
Existence of God (1988) is illustrative. It argues that it is precisely time's reality which 
proves the existence of God; civilization's perfect logic. 

All ritual is an attempt, through symbolism, to return to the timeless state. Ritual is a 
gesture of abstraction from that state, however, a false step that only leads further away. 
The "timelessness" of number is part of this trajectory, and contributes much to time as a 
fixed concept. In fact, Blumenberg (1983) seems largely correct in assaying that "time is 
not measured as something that has been present all along; instead it is produced, for the 
first time, by measurement." To express time we must, in some way, quantify it; number 
is therefore essential. Even where time has already appeared, a slowly more divided 
social existence works toward its progressive reification only by means of number. The 
sense of passing time is not keen among tribal peoples, for example, who do not mark it 
with calendars or clocks. 

Time: an original meaning of the word in ancient Greek is division. Number, when added 
to time, makes the dividing or separating that much more potent. The non-civilized often 
have considered it "unlucky" to count living creatures, and generally resist adopting the 
practice (e.g. Dobrizhoffer 1822). The intuition for number was far from spontaneous and 
inevitable, but "already in early civilizations," Schimmel (1992) reports, "one feels that 
numbers are a reality having as it were a magnetic power field around them." It is not 
surprising that among ancient cultures with the strongest emerging senses of time- 
Egyptian, Babylonian, Mayan— we see numbers associated with ritual figures and deities; 
indeed the Mayans and Babylonians both had number gods (Barrow 1992). 

Much later the clock, with its face of numbers, encouraged society to abstract and 
quantify the experience of time still further. Every clock reading is a measurement that 

joins the clock watcher to the "flow of time." And we absently delude ourselves that we 
know what time is because we know what time it is. If we did away with clocks, Shallis 
(1982) reminds us, objective time would also disappear. More fundamentally, if we did 
away with specialization and technology, alienation would be banished. 

The mathematizing of nature was the basis for the birth of modern rationalism and 
science in the West. This had stemmed from demands for number and measurement in 
connection with similar teachings about time, in the service of mercantile capitalism. The 
continuity of number and time as a geometrical locus were fundamental to the Scientific 
Revolution, which projected Galileo's dictum to measure all that is measurable and make 
measurable that which is not. Mathematically divisible time is necessary for the conquest 
of nature, and for even the rudiments of modern technology. 

From this point on, number-based symbolic time became crushingly real, an abstract 
construction "removed from and even contrary to every internal and external human 
experience" (Syzamosi 1986). Under its pressure, money and language, merchandise and 
information have become steadily less distinguishable, and division of labor more 

To symbolize is to express time consciousness, for the symbol embodies the structure of 
time (Darby 1982). Clearer still is Meerloo's formulation: "To understand a symbol and 
its development is to grasp human history in a nutshell." The contrast is the life of the 
non-civilized, lived in a capacious present that cannot be reduced to the single moment of 
the mathematical present. As the continual now gave way to increasing reliance upon 
systems of significant symbols (language, number, art, ritual, myth) dislodged from the 
now, the further abstraction, history, began to develop. Historical time is no more 
inherent in reality, no less an imposition on it, than the earlier, less choate forms of time. 

In a slowly more synthetic context, astronomical observation is invested with new 
meanings. Once pursued for its own sake, it comes to provide the vehicle for scheduling 
rituals and coordinating the activities of complex society. With the help of the stars, the 
year and its divisions exist as instruments of organizational authority (Leach 1954). The 
formation of a calendar is basic to the formation of a civilization. The calendar was the 
first symbolic artifact that regulated social behavior by keeping track of time. And what 
is involved is not the control of time but its opposite: enclosure by time in a world of very 
real alienation. One recalls that our word comes from the Latin calends, the first day of 
the month, when business accounts had to be settled. 

Time to Pray, Time to Work 

"No time is entirely present," said the Stoic Chrysippus, and meanwhile the concept of 
time was being further advanced by the underlying Judeo-Christian tenet of a linear, 
irreversible path between creation and salvation. This essentially historical view of time 
is the very core of Christianity; all the basic notions of measurable, one-way time can be 
found in St. Augustine's (fifth- century) writings. With the spread of the new religion the 
strict regulation of time, on a practical plane, was needed to help maintain the discipline 

of monastic life. Bells summoning the monks to prayer eight times daily were heard far 
beyond the confines of the cloister, and thus a measure of time regulation was imposed 
on society at large. The population continued to exhibit "une vaste indiff,rance au temps" 
throughout the feudal era, according to Marc Bloch (1940), but it is no accident that the 
first public clocks adorned cathedrals in the West. Worth noting in this regard is the fact 
that the calling of precise prayer times became the chief externalization of medieval 
Islamic belief. 

The invention of the mechanical clock was one of the most important turning points in 
the history of science and technology; indeed of all human art and culture (Synge 1959). 
The improvement in accuracy presented authority with enhanced opportunities for 
oppression. An early devotee of elaborate mechanical clocks, for example, was Duke 
Gian Galeazzo Visconti, described in 1381 as "a sedate but crafty ruler with a great love 
of order and precision" (Fraser 1988). As Weizenbaum (1976) wrote, the clock began to 
create "literally a new reality... that was and remains an impoverished version of the old 

A qualitative change was introduced. Even when nothing was happening, time did not 
cease to flow. Events, from this era on, are put into this homogeneous, objectively 
measured, moving envelope— and this unilinear progression incited resistance. The most 
extreme were the chiliast, or millenarian, movements, which appeared in various parts of 
Europe from the 14th into the 17th centuries. These generally took the form of peasant 
risings which aimed at recreating the primal egalitarian state of nature and were explicitly 
opposed to historical time. These Utopian explosions were quelled, but remnants of earlier 
time concepts persisted as a "lower" stratum of folk consciousness in many areas. 

During the Renaissance, domination by time reached a new level as public clocks now 
tolled all twenty-four hours of the day and added new hands to mark the passing seconds. 
A keen sense of time's all- consuming presence is the great discovery of the age, and 
nothing portrays this more graphically than the figure of Father Time. Renaissance art 
fused the Greek god Kronos with the Roman god Saturn to form the familiar grim deity 
representing the power of Time, armed with a fatal scythe signifying his association with 
agriculture/domestication. The Dance of Death and other medieval memento mori 
artifacts preceded Father Time, but the subject is now time rather than death. 

The seventeenth century was the first in which people thought of themselves as 
inhabiting a particular century. One now needed to take one's bearings within time. 
Francis Bacon's The Masculine Birth of Time (1603) and A Discourse Concerning a New 
Planet (1605) embraced the deepening dimension and revealed how a heightened sense of 
time could serve the new scientific spirit. "To choose time is to save time," he wrote, and 
"Truth is the daughter of time." Descartes followed, introducing the idea of time as 
limitless. He was one of the first advocates of the modern idea of progress, closely related 
to that of unbounded linear time, and characteristically expressing itself in his famous 
invitation that we become "masters and possessors of nature." 

Newton's clockwork universe was the crowning achievement of the Scientific Revolution 
in the seventeenth century, and was grounded in his conception of "Absolute, true and 
mathematical time, of itself and from its own nature, flowing equably without relation to 
anything eternal." Time is now the grand ruler, answering to no one, influenced by 
nothing, completely independent of the environment: the model of unassailable authority 
and perfect guarantor of unchanging alienation. Classical Newtonian physics in fact 
remains, despite changes in science, the dominant, everyday conception of time. 

The appearance of independent, abstract time found its parallel in the emergence of a 
growing, formally free working class forced to sell its labor power as an abstract 
commodity on the market. Prior to the coming of the factory system but already subject 
to time's disciplinary power, this labor force was the inverse of the monarch Time: free 
and independent in name only. In Foucault's judgment (1973), the West had become a 
"carceral society" from this point on. Perhaps more directly to the point is the Balkan 
proverb, "A clock is a lock." 

In 1749 Rousseau threw away his watch, a symbolic rejection of modern science and 
civilization. Somewhat more in the dominant spirit of the age, however, were the gifts of 
fifty-one watches to Marie Antoinette upon her engagement. The word is certainly 
appropriate, as people had to "watch" the time more and more; watches would soon 
become one of the first consumer durables of the industrial era. 

William Blake and Goethe both attacked Newton, the symbol of the new time and 
science, for his distancing of life from the sensual, his reduction of the natural to the 
measurable. Capitalist ideologue Adam Smith, on the other hand, echoed and extended 
Newton, by calling for greater rationalization and routinization. Smith, like Newton, 
labored under the spell of an increasingly powerful and remorseless time in promoting 
further division of labor as objective and absolute progress. 

The Puritans had proclaimed waste of time the first and in principle the deadliest of sins 
(Weber 1921); this became, about a century later, Ben Franklin's "Time is money." The 
factory system was initiated by clockmakers and the clock was the symbol and 
fountainhead of the order, discipline and repression required to create an industrial 

Hegel's grand system in the early 19th century heralded the "push into time" that is 
History's momentum; time is our "destiny and necessity," he declared. Postone (1993) 
noted that the "progress" of abstract time is closely tied to the "progress" of capitalism 
as a way of life. Waves of industrialism drowned the resistance of the Luddites; 
appraising this general period, Lyotard (1988) decided that "the illness of time was now 

An increasingly complex class society requires an ever larger array of time signals. Fights 
against time, as Thompson (1967) and Hohn (1984) have pointed out, gave way to 
struggles over time; resistance to being yoked to time and its inherent demands was 
defeated in general, replaced, typically, by disputes over the fair determination of time 

schedules or the length of the work day. (In an address to the First International (July 28, 
1868), Karl Marx advocated, by the way, age nine as the time to begin work.) 

The clock descended from the cathedral, to court and courthouse, next to the bank and 
railway station, and finally to the wrist and pocket of each decent citizen. Time had to 
become more "democratic" in order to truly colonize subjectivity. The subjection of 
outer nature, as Adorno and others have understood, is successful only in the measure of 
the conquest of inner nature. The unleashing of the forces of production, to put it another 
way, depended on time's victory in its long-waged war on freer consciousness. 
Industrialism brought with it a more complete commodification of time, time in its most 
predatory form yet. It was this that Giddens (1981) saw as "the key to the deepest 
transformations of day-to-day social life that are brought about by the emergence of 

"Time marches on," as the saying goes, in a world increasingly dependent on time and a 
time increasingly unified. A single giant clock hangs over the world and dominates. It 
pervades all; in its court there is no appeal. The standardization of world time marks a 
victory for the efficient/machine society, a universalism that undoes particularity as 
surely as computers lead to homogenization of thought. 

Paul Virilio (1986) has gone so far as to foresee that "the loss of material space leads to 
the government of nothing but time." A further provocative notion posits a reversal of the 
birth of history out of maturing time. Virilio (1991), in fact, finds us already living within 
a system of technological temporality where history has been eclipsed, "...the primary 
question becomes less one of relations to history than one of relations to time." 

Such theoretical flights aside, however, there is ample evidence and testimony as to 
time's central role in society. In "Time-- The Next Source of Competitive Advantage" 
(July-August, 1988 Harvard Business Review), George Stark, Jr. discusses it as pivotal in 
the positioning of capital: "As a strategic weapon, time is the equivalent of money, 
productivity, quality, even innovation." Time management is certainly not confined to the 
corporations; Levine's 1985 study of publicly accessible clocks in six countries 
demonstrated that their accuracy was an exact gauge of the relative industrialization of 
national life. Paul Adler's January-February, 1993 Harvard Business Review offering, 
"Time-and-Motion Regained," nakedly champions the neo-Taylorist standardization and 
regimentation of work: behind the well-publicized "workplace democracy" window 
dressing in some factories remains the "time- and-motion discipline and formal 
bureaucratic structures essential for efficiency and quality in routine operations." 

Time in Literature 

It is clear that the advent of writing facilitated the fixation of time concepts and the 
beginning of history. But as the anthropologist Goody (1991) points out, "oral cultures 
are often only too prepared to accept these innovations." They have already been 
conditioned, after all, by language itself. McLuhan (1962) discussed how the coming of 
the printed book, and mass literacy, reinforced the logic of linear time. 

Life was steadily forced to adapt. "For now hath time made me his numbering clock," 
wrote Shakespeare in Richard II. "Time", like "rich", was one of the favorite words of 
the Bard, a time-haunted figure. A hundred years later, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe 
reflected how little escape from time seemed possible. Marooned on a desert island, 
Crusoe is deeply concerned with the passage of time; keeping close track of his affairs, 
even in such a setting, meant above all keeping track of the time, especially as long as his 
pen and ink lasted. 

Northrop Frye (1950) saw the "alliance of time and Western man" as the defining 
characteristic of the novel. Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel (1957) likewise focused on 
the new concern with time that stimulated the novel's emergence in the eighteenth 
century. As Jonathan Swift told it in Gulliver's Travels (1726), his protagonist never did 
anything without looking at his watch. "He called it his oracle, and said it pointed out the 
time for every action of his life." The Lilliputians concluded that the watch was Gulliver's 
god. Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760), on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, begins 
with the mother of Tristram interrupting his father at the moment of their monthly coitus: 
"Tray, my dear,' quoth my mother, "have you not forgot to wind up the clock?'" 

In the nineteenth century Poe satirized the authority of clocks, linking them to bourgeois 
superficiality and obsession with order. Time is the real subject of Flaubert's novels, 
according to Hauser (1956), as Walter Pater (1901) sought in literature the "wholly 
concrete moment" which would "absorb past and future in an intense consciousness of 
the present," similar to Joyce's celebration of "epiphanies". In Marius the Epicurean 
(1909), Pater depicts Marius suddenly realizing "the possibility of a real world beyond 
time." Meanwhile Swinburne looked for a respite be- yond "time-stricken lands" and 
Baudelaire declared his fear and hatred of chronological time, the devouring foe. 

The disorientation of an age wracked by time and subject to the acceleration of history 
has led modern writers to deal with time from new and extreme points of view. Proust 
delineated interrelationships among events that transcended conventional temporal order 
and thus violated Newtonian conceptions of causation. His thirteen-volume A la 
Recherche du Temps Perdu (1925), usually rendered in English as Remembrance of 
Things Past, is more literally and accurately translated as Searching for Lost Time. In it 
he judges that "a minute freed from the order of time has recreated in us. ..the individual 
freed from the order of time," and recognizes "the only environment in which one could 
live and enjoy the essence of things, that is to say, entirely outside time." 

Philosophy in the twentieth century has been largely preoccupied with time. Consider the 
misguided attempts to locate authentic time by thinkers as different as Bergson and 
Heidegger, or the latter's virtual deification of time. A.A. Mendilow's Time and the Novel 
(1952) reveals how the same intense interest has dominated the novels of the century, in 
particular those of Joyce, Woolf, Conrad, James, Gide, Mann, and of course, Proust. 
Other studies, such as Church's Time and Reality (1962), have expanded this list of 
novelists to include, among others, Kafka, Sartre, Faulkner, and Vonnegut. 

And of course time-struck literature cannot be confined to the novel. T.S. Eliot's poetry 
often expressed a yearning to escape time-bound, time-ridden conventionality. "Burnt 
Norton" (1941) is a good example, with these lines: 

Time past and time future Allow but a little consciousness. To be conscious is not to be in 

" Samuel Beckett, early in his career (1931), wrote pointedly of "the poisonous ingenuity 
of Time in the science of affliction." The play Waiting for Godot (1955) is an obvious 
candidate in this regard, and so is his Murphy (1957), in which time becomes reversible 
in the mind of the main character. When the clock may go either way, our sense of time, 
and time itself, vanishes. 

The Psychology of Time 

Turning to what is commonly called psychology, we again come upon one of the most 
fundamental questions: Is there really a phenomenon of time that exists apart from any 
individual, or does it reside only in one's perceptions of it? Husserl, for example, failed to 
show why consciousness in the modern world seems to inevitably constitute itself in 
time. We know that experiences, like events of every other kind, are neither past, present 
nor future in themselves. 

Whereas there was little sociological interest in time until the 1970s, the number of 
studies of time in the literature of psychology has increased rapidly since 1930 (Lauer 
1988). Time is perhaps hardest of all to define "psychologically". What is time? What is 
the experience of time? What is alienation? What is the experience of alienation? If the 
latter subject were not so neglected the obvious interrelationship would be made clear. 

Davies (1977) termed time's passage "a psychological phenomenon of mysterious origin" 
and concluded (1983), "the secret of mind will only be solved when we understand the 
secret of time." Given the artificial separation of the individual from society, which 
defines their field, it is inevitable that such psychologists and psychoanalysts as Eissler 
(1955), Loewald (1962), Namnum (1972), and Morris (1983) have encountered "great 
difficulties" in studying time! 

At least a few partial insights have been achieved, however. Hartcollis (1983), for 
instance, noted that time is not only an abstraction but a feeling, while Korzybski (1948) 
had already taken this further with his observation that "'time' is a feeling, produced by 
conditions of this world...." In all our lives we are "waiting for Godot," according to 
Arlow (1986), who believed that our experience of time arises out of unfulfilled 
emotional needs. Similarly, Reichenbach (1956) had termed anti-time philosophies, like 
religion, "documents of emotional dissatisfaction." In Freudian terms, Bergler and 
Roheim (1946) saw the passage of time as symbolizing separation periods originating in 
early infancy. "The calendar is an ultimate materialization of separation anxiety." If 
informed by a critical interest in the social and historical context, the implications of 

these undeveloped points could become serious contributions. Confined to psychology, 
however, they remain limited and even misleading. 

In the world of alienation no adult can contrive or decree the freedom from time that the 
child habitually enjoys--and must be made to lose. Time training, the essence of 
schooling, is vitally important to society. This training, as Fraser (1984) very cogently 
puts it, "bears in almost paradigmatic form the features of a civilizing process." A patient 
of Joost Meerlo (1966) "expressed it sarcastically: "Time is civilization,' by which she 
meant that scheduling and meticulousness were the great weapons used by adults to force 
the youngsters into submission and servility." Piaget's studies (1946, 1952) could detect 
no innate sense of time. Rather, the abstract notion of "time" is of considerable difficulty 
to the young. It is not something they learn automatically; there is no spontaneous 
orientation toward time (Hermelin and O'Connor 1971, Voyat 1977). 

Time and tidy are related etymologically, and our Newtonian idea of time represents 
perfect and universal ordering. The cumulative weight of this ever more pervasive 
pressure shows up in the increasing number of patients with time anxiety symptoms 
(Lawson 1990). Dooley (1941) referred to "the observed fact that people who are 
obsessive in character, whatever their type of neurosis, are those who make most 
extensive use of the sense of time...." Pettit's "Anality and Time" (1969) argued 
convincingly for the close connection between the two, as Meerloo (1966), citing the 
character and achievements of Mussolini and Eichmann, found "a definite connection 
between time compulsion and fascistic aggression." 

Capek (1961) called time "a huge and chronic hallucination of the human mind"; there 
are few experiences indeed that can be said to be timeless. Orgasm, LSD, a life "flashing 
before one's eyes" in a moment of extreme danger... these are some of the rare, evanescent 
situations intense enough to escape from time's insistence. 

Timelessness is the ideal of pleasure, wrote Marcuse (1955). The passage of time, on the 
other hand, fosters the forgetting of what was and what can be. It is the enemy of eros and 
deep ally of the order of repression. The mental processes of the unconscious are in fact 
timeless, decided Freud (1920). "...time does not change them in any way and the idea of 
time cannot be applied to them." Thus desire is already outside of time. As Freud said in 
1932: "There is nothing in the Id that corresponds to the notion of time; there is no 
recognition of the passage of time." 

Marie Bonaparte (1939) argued that time becomes ever more plastic and obedient to the 
pleasure principle insofar as we loosen the bonds of full ego control. Dreams are a form 
of thinking among non-civilized peoples (Kracke 1987); this faculty must have once been 
much more accessible to us. The Surrealists believed that reality could be much more 
fully understood if we could make the connection to our instinctive, subconscious 
experiences; Breton (1924), for example, proclaimed the radical goal of a resolution of 
dream and conscious reality. 

When we dream the sense of time is virtually nonexistent, replaced by a sensation of 
presentness. It should come as no surprise that dreams, which ignore the rules of time, 
would attract the notice of those searching for liberatory clues, or that the unconscious, 
with its "storms of impulse" (Stern 1977), frightens those with a stake in the neurosis we 
call civilization. Norman O. Brown (1959) saw the sense of time or history as a function 
of repression; if repression were abolished, he reasoned, we would be released from time. 
Similarly, Coleridge (1801) recognized in the man of "methodical industry" the origin 
and creator of time. 

In his Critique of Cynical Reason (1987), Peter Sloterdijk called for the "radical 
recognition of the Id without reservation," a narcissistic self-affirmation that would laugh 
in the face of morose society. Narcissism has of course traditionally been cast as wicked, 
the "heresy of self-love." In reality that meant it was reserved for the ruling classes, 
while all others (workers, women, slaves) had to practice submission and self-effacement 
(Fine 1986). The narcissist symptoms are feelings of emptiness, unreality, alienation, life 
as no more than a succession of moments, accompanied by a longing for powerful 
autonomy and self-esteem (Alford 1988, Grunberger 1979). Given the appropriateness of 
these "symptoms" and desires it is little wonder that narcissism can be seen as a 
potentially emancipatory force (Zweig 1980). Its demand for total satisfaction is 
obviously a subversive individualism, at a minimum. 

The narcissist "hates time, denies time" (letter to author, Alford 1993) and this, as 
always, provokes a severe reaction from the defenders of time and authority. Psychiatrist 
E. Mark Stern (1977), for instance: "Since time begins beyond one's control one must 
correspond to its demands.... Courage is the antithesis of narcissism." This condition, 
which certainly may include negative aspects, contains the germ of a different reality 
principle, aiming at the non-time of perfection wherein being and becoming are one and 
including, implicitly, a halt to time. 

Time in Science 

I'm not a scientist but I do know that all things begin and end in eternity. -The Man 
Who Fell to Earth, Walter Tevis 

Science, for our purposes, does not comment on time and estrangement with anywhere 
near the directness of, say, psychology. But science can be re-construed to shed light on 
the topic at hand, because of the many parallels between scientific theory and human 

"Time," decided N.A. Kozyrev (1971), "is the most important and the most mysterious 
phenomenon of Nature. Its notion is beyond the grasp of imagination." Some scientists, in 
fact, have felt (e.g. Dingle 1966) that "all the real problems associated with the notion of 
time are independent of physics." Science, and physics in particular, may indeed not have 
the last word; it is another source of commentary, however, though itself alienated and 
generally indirect. 

Is "physical time" the same as the time of which we are conscious; if not, how does it 
differ? In physics, time seems to be an undefined basic dimension, as much a taken-for- 
granted given as it is outside the realm of science. This is one way to remind ourselves 
that, as with every other kind of thinking, scientific ideas are meaningless outside their 
cultural context. They are symptoms of and symbol for the ways of living that give rise to 
them. According to Nietzsche, all writing is inherently metaphorical, even though science 
is rarely looked at this way. Science has developed by drawing an increasingly sharp 
separation between inner and outer worlds, between dream and "reality". This has been 
accomplished by the mathematization of nature, which has largely meant that the scientist 
proceeds by a method that debars him or her from the larger context, including the origins 
and significance of his/her projects. Nonetheless, as H.P. Robinson (1964) stated, "the 
cosmologies which humanity has set up at various times and in various localities 
inevitably reflect the physical and intellectual environment, including above all the 
interests and culture of each society." 

Subjective time, as P.C.W. Davies pointed out (1981), "possesses apparent qualities that 
are absent from the 'outside' world and which are fundamental to our conception of 
reality"--principally the "passing" of time. Our sense of separation from the world owes 
largely to this discrepancy. We exist in time (and alienation), but time is not found in the 
physical world. The time variable, though useful to science, is a theoretical construct. 
"The laws of science," Stephen Hawking (1988) explained, "do not distinguish between 
past and future." Einstein had gone further than this some thirty years earlier; in one of 
his last letters, he wrote that "People like us, who believe in physics, know that the 
distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn, persistent illusion." But 
science partakes of society in other ways concerning time, and very deeply. The more 
"rational" it becomes, the more variations in time are suppressed. Theoretical physics 
geometrizes time by conceiving it as a straight line, for example. Science does not stand 
apart form the cultural history of time. 

As implied above, however, physics does not contain the idea of a present instant of time 
that passes (Park 1972). Furthermore, the fundamental laws are not only completely 
reversible as to the "arrow of time'— as Hawking noted—but "irreversible phenomena 
appear as the result of the particular nature of our human cognition," according to 
Watanabe (1953). Once again we find human experience playing a decisive role, even in 
this most "objective" realm. Zee (1992) put it this way: "Time is that one concept in 
physics we can't talk about without dragging in, at some level, consciousness." 

Even in seemingly straightforward areas ambiguities exist where time is concerned. 
While the complexity of the most complex species may increase, for example, not all 
species become more complex, prompting J.M. Smith (1972) to conclude that it is 
"difficult to say whether evolution as a whole has a direction." 

In terms of the cosmos, it is argued, "time's arrow" is automatically indicated by the fact 
that the galaxies are receding away from each other. But there seems to be virtual 
unanimity that as far as the basics of physics are concerned, the "flow" of time is 
irrelevant and makes no sense; fundamental physical laws are completely neutral with 

regard to the direction of time (Mehlberg 1961, 1971, Landsberg 1982, Squires 1986, 
Watanabe 1953, 1956, Swinburne 1986, Morris 1984, Mallove 1987, D'Espagnant 1989, 
etc.). Modern physics even provides scenarios in which time ceases to exist and, in 
reverse, comes into existence. So why is our world asymmetric in time? Why can't it go 
backward as well as forward? This is a paradox, inasmuch as the individual molecular 
dynamics are all reversible. The main point, to which I will return later, is that time's 
arrow reveals itself as complexity develops, in striking parallel with the social world. 

The flow of time manifests itself in the context of future and past, and they in turn depend 
on a referent known as the now. With Einstein and relativity, it is clear that there is no 
universal present: we cannot say it is "now" throughout the universe. There is no fixed 
interval at all that is independent of the system to which it refers, just as alienation is 
dependent on its context. 

Time is thus robbed of the autonomy and objectivity it enjoyed in the Newtonian world. 
It is definitely more individually delineated, in Einstein's revelations, than the absolute 
and universal monarch it had been. Time is relative to specific conditions and varies 
according to such factors as speed and gravitation. But if time has become more 
"decentralized", it has also colonized subjectivity more than ever before. As time and 
alienation have become the rule throughout the world, there is little solace in knowing 
that they are dependent on varying circumstances. The relief comes in acting on this 
understanding; it is the invariance of alienation that causes the Newtonian model of 
independently flowing time to hold sway within us, long after its theoretical foundations 
were eliminated by relativity. 

Quantum theory, dealing with the smallest parts of the universe, is known as the 
fundamental theory of matter. The core of quantum theory follows other fundamental 
physical theories, like relativity, in making no distinction in the direction of time (Coveny 
and Highfield 1990). A basic premise is indeterminism, in which the movement of 
particles at this level is a matter of probabilities. Along with such elements as positrons, 
which can be regarded as electrons moving backward in time, and tachyons, faster-than- 
light particles that generate effects and contexts reversing the temporal order (Gribbin 
1979, Lindley 1993), quantum physics has raised fundamental questions about time and 
causality. In the quantum microworld common acausal relationships have been 
discovered that transcend time and put into question the very notion of the ordering of 
events in time. There can be "connections and correlations between very distant events in 
the absence of any intermediary force or signal" which occur instantaneously (Zohar 
1982, Aspect 1982). The eminent American physicist John Wheeler has called attention 
(1977, 1980, 1986) to phenomena in which action taken now affects the course of events 
that have already happened. 

Gleick (1992) summed up the situation as follows: "With simultaneity gone, 
sequentiality was foundering, causality was under pressure, and scientists generally felt 
themselves free to consider temporal possibilities that would have seemed far-fetched a 
generation before." At least one approach in quantum physics has attempted to remove 

the notion of time altogether (J.G. Taylor 1972); D. Park (1972), for instance, said, "I 
prefer the atemporal representation to the temporal one." 

The bewildering situation in science finds its match in the extremity of the social world. 
Alienation, like time, produces ever greater oddities and pressures: the most fundamental 
questions finally, almost necessarily, emerge in both cases. 

St. Augustine's fifth century complaint was that he didn't understand what the 
measurement of time really consisted of. Einstein, admitting the inadequacy of his 
comment, often defined time as "what a clock measures." Quantum physics, for its part, 
posits the inseparability of measurer and what is measured. Via a process physicists don't 
claim to understand fully, the act of observation or measurement not only reveals a 
particle's condition but actually determines it (Pagels 1983). This has prompted Wheeler 
(1984) to ask, "Is everything—including time— built from nothingness by acts of 
observer-participancy?" Again a striking parallel, for alienation, at every level and from 
its origin, requires exactly such participation, virtually as a matter of definition. 

Time's arrow— irrevocable, one-direction-only time— is the monster that has proven itself 
more terrifying than any physical projectile. Directionless time is not time at all, and 
Cambel (1993) identifies time directionality as "a primary characteristic of complex 
systems." The time-reversible behavior of atomic particles is "generally commuted into 
behavior of the system that is irreversible," concluded Schlegel (1961). If not rooted in 
the micro world, where does time come from? Where does our time-bound world come 
from? It is here that we encounter a provocative analogy. The small scale world described 
by physics, with its mysterious change into the macro world of complex systems, is 
analogous to the "primitive" social world and the origins of division of labor, leading to 
complex, class-divided society with its apparently irreversible "progress". 

A generally held tenet of physical theory is that the arrow of time is dependent on the 
Second Law of Thermodynamics (e.g. Reichenbach 1956), which asserts that all systems 
tend toward ever greater disorder or entropy. The past is thus more orderly than the 
future. Some proponents of the Second Law (e.g. Boltzmann 1866) have found in 
entropic increase the very meaning of the past-future distinction. 

This general principle of irreversibility was developed in the middle decades of the 19th 
century, beginning with Carnot in 1 824, when industrial capitalism itself reached its 
apparent non- reversible point. If evolution was the century's optimistic application of 
irreversible time, the Second Law of Thermodynamics was its pessimistic one. In its 
original terms, it pictured a universe as an enormous heat engine running down, where 
work became increasingly subject to inefficiency and disorder. But nature, as Toda 
(1978) noticed, is not an engine, does not work, and is not concerned with "order" or 
"disorder". The cultural aspect of this theory— namely, capital's fear for its future— is hard 
to miss. 

One hundred and fifty years later, theoretical physicists realize that the Second Law and 
its supposed explanation of the arrow of time cannot be considered a solved problem 

(Neman 1982). Many supporters of reversible time in nature consider the Second Law too 
superficial, a secondary law not a primary one (e.g. Haken 1988, Penrose 1989). Others 
(e.g. Sklar 1985) find the very concept of entropy ill-defined and problematic, and, 
related to the charge of superficiality, it is argued that the phenomena described by the 
Second Law can be ascribed to particular initial conditions and do not represent the 
workings of a general principle (Davies 1981, Barrow 1991). Furthermore, not every pair 
of events that bear the "afterward" relation the one to the other bear an entropic 
difference. The science of complexity (with a wider scope than chaos theory) has 
discovered that not all systems tend toward disorder (Lewin 1992), also contrary to the 
Second Law. Moreover, isolated systems, in which no exchanges with the environment 
are allowed, display the Second Law's irreversible trend; even the universe may not be 
such a closed system. Sklar (1974) points out that we don't know whether the total 
entropy of the universe is increasing, decreasing, or remaining stationary. 

Despite such aporias and objections, a movement toward an "irreversible physics" based 
on the Second Law is underway, with quite interesting implications. 1977 Nobel Laureate 
Ilya Prigogine seems to be the most tireless and public advocate of the view that there is 
an innate unidirectional time at all levels of existence. Whereas the fundamentals of every 
major scientific theory, as noted, are neutral with respect to time, Prigogine gives time a 
primary emphasis in the universe. Irreversibility is for him and his like-minded fellow 
believers an over-arching primal axiom. In supposedly nonpartisan science, the question 
of time has clearly become a political matter. 

Prigogine (1985), in a symposium sponsored by Honda and promoting such projects as 
Artificial Intelligence: "Questions such as the origin of life, the origin of the universe, or 
the origin of matter, can no longer be discussed without recourse to irreversibility." It is 
no coincidence that non-scientist Alvin Toffler, America's leading cheerleader for a high- 
tech world, provided an enthusiastic forward for one of the basic texts of the pro-time 
campaign, Prigogine and Stenger's Order Out of Chaos (1984). Prigogine disciple Ervin 
Laszlo, in a bid to legitimate and extend the dogma of universally irreversible time, asks 
whether the laws of nature are applicable to the human world. He soon answers, in effect, 
his own disingenuous question (1985): "The general irreversibility of technological 
innovation overrides the indeterminacy of individual points of bifurcation and drives the 
processes of history in the observed direction from primitive tribes to modern techno- 
industrial states." How "scientific"! This transposition from the "laws of nature" to the 
social world could hardly be improved on as a description of time, division of labor, and 
the mega-machine crushing the autonomy or "reversibility" of human decision. Leggett 
(1987) expressed this perfectly: "So it would seem that the arrow of time which appears 
in the apparently impersonal subject of thermodynamics is intimately related to what we, 
as human agents, can or cannot do." 

It is deliverance from "chaos" which Prigogine and others promise the ruling system, 
using the model of irreversible time. Capital has always reigned in fear of entropy or 
disorder. Resistance, especially resistance to work, is the real entropy, which time, 
history, and progress constantly seek to banish. Prigogine and Stenger (1984) wrote: 

"Irreversibility is either true on all levels or none." All or nothing, always the ultimate 
stakes of the game. 

Since civilization subjugated humanity we have had to live with the melancholy idea that 
our highest aspirations are perhaps impossible in a world of steadily mounting time. The 
more that pleasure and understanding are deferred, moved out of reach— and this is the 
essence of civilization— the more palpable is the dimension of time. Nostalgia for the past, 
fascination with the idea of time travel, and the heated quest for increased longevity are 
some of the symptoms of time sickness, and there seems to be no ready cure. "What does 
not elapse in time is the lapse of time itself," as Merleau-Ponty (1945) realized. 

In addition to the general antipathy at large, however, it is possible to point out some 
recent specifics of opposition. The Society for the Retardation of Time was established in 
1990 and has a few hundred members in four European countries. Less whimsical than it 
may sound, its members are committed to reversing the contemporary acceleration of 
time in everyday life, toward the aim of being allowed to live more satisfying lives. 
Michael Theunissen's Negative Theology of Time appeared in 1991, aimed explicitly at 
what it sees as the ultimate human enemy. This work has engendered a very lively debate 
in philosophical circles (Penta 1993), due to its demand for a negative reconsideration of 

"Time is the one single movement appropriate to itself in all its parts," wrote Merleau- 
Ponty (1962). Here we see the fullness of alienation in the separated world of capital. 
Time is thought of by us before its parts; it thus reveals the totality. The crisis of time is 
the crisis of the whole. Its triumph, apparently well established, was in fact never 
complete as long as anyone could question the first premises of its being. 

Above Lake Silviplana, Nietzsche found the inspiration for Thus Spake Zarathustra. "Six 
thousand feet above men and time...," he wrote in his journal. But time cannot be 
transcended by means of a lofty contempt for humanity, because overcoming the 
alienation that it generates is not a solitary project. In this sense I prefer Rexroth's (1968) 
formulation: "the only Absolute is the Community of Love with which Time ends." 

Can we put an end to time? Its movement can be seen as the master and measure of a 
social existence that has become increasingly empty and technicized. Averse to all that is 
spontaneous and immediate, time more and more clearly reveals its bond with alienation. 
The scope of our project of renewal must include the entire length of this joint 
domination. Divided life will be replaced by the possibility of living completely and 
wholly— timelessly— only when we erase the primary causes of that division. 

We have gone along with the substantiation of time so that it seems a fact of nature, a 
power existing in its own right. The growth of a sense of time— the acceptance of time— is 
a process of adaptation to an ever more reified world. It is a constructed dimension, the 
most elemental aspect of culture. Time's inexorable nature provides the ultimate model of 

All ritual is an attempt, through symbolism, to return to the timeless state. Ritual is a 
gesture of abstraction from that state, however, a false step that only leads further away. 
The "timelessness" of number is part of this trajectory, and contributes much to time as a 
fixed concept. 

With the help of the stars, the year and its divisions exist as instruments of organizational 
authority (Leach 1954). The formation of a calendar is basic to the formation of a 
civilization. The calendar was the first symbolic artifact that regulated social behavior by 
keeping track of time. And what is involved is not the control of time but its opposite: 
enclosure by time in a world of very real alienation. 

In the world of alienation no adult can contrive or decree the freedom from time that the 
child habitually enjoys--and must be made to lose. Time training, the essence of 
schooling, is vitally important to society. This training, as Fraser (1984) very cogently 
puts it, "bears in almost paradigmatic form the features of a civilizing process." 

Against Technology 

A talk by John Zerzan April 23, 1997 

A humanities symposium called "Discourse ©Networks 200" was held at Stanford 
University over the course of several months in 1997. The following talk on April 23 
represents the only dissent to the prevailing high-tech orientation/appreciation. 

Thanks for coming. I'll be your Luddite this afternoon. The token Luddite, so it falls on 
me to uphold this unpopular or controversial banner. The emphasis will be on breadth 
rather than depth, and in rather reified terms, owing to time considerations. But I hope it 
won't disable whatever cogency there might be to these somewhat general remarks. 
It seems to me we're in a barren, impoverished, technicized place and that these 
characteristics are interrelated. Technology claims that it extends the senses; but this 
extension, it seems, ends up blunting and atrophying the senses, instead of what this 
promise claims. Technology today is offering solutions to everything in every sphere. 
You can hardly think of one for which it doesn't come up with the answer. But it would 
like us to forget that in virtually every case, it has created the problem in the first place 
that it comes round to say that it will transcend. Just a little more technology. That's what 
it always says. And I think we see the results ever more clearly today. The computer 
cornucopia, as everything becomes wired into the computer throughout society, offers 
variety, the riches of complete access, and yet, as Frederick Jameson said, we live in a 
society that is the most standardized in history. Let's look at it as a "means and ends" 
proposition, as in, means and ends must be equally valid. Technology claims to be 
neutral, merely a tool, its value or meaning completely dependent on how it is used. In 
this way it hides its ends by cloaking its means. If there is no way to understand what it is 
in terms of an essence, inner logic, historical embeddedness or other dimension, then 
what we call technology escapes judgment. We generally recognize the ethical precept 
that you can't achieve valid or good ends with deficient or invalid means, but how do we 
gauge that unless we look at the means? If it's something we're not supposed to think 
about in terms of its essential being, its foundations, it's impossible. I mean, you can 
repeat any kind of cliche. This is that kind of thing that one hopes is not a cliche because 
the means and ends thesis is a moral value that I think does have validity. 
A number of people or cases could be brought up to further illuminate this. For example, 
Marx early on was concerned with what technology is, what production and the means of 
production are, and determined, as many, many people have, that it's at base division of 
labor. And hence it is a vital question how stunting or how negative division of labor is. 
But Marx went on from that banality, which doesn't get much examined, as we know, to 
very different questions, such as which class owns and controls the technology and means 
of production, and how does the dispossessed class, the proletariat, seize that technology 
from the bourgeoisie. This was quite a different emphasis from examining and evaluating 
technology, and represents an abandonment of his earlier interest. 

Of course, by that point, Marx certainly felt that technology is a positive good. Today the 
people who say that it's merely a tool, a neutral thing, that it's purely a matter of 
instrumental use of technology, really believe that technology is a positive thing. But they 
want to be a little more canny about it, so again, my point is that if you say it's neutral, 

then you avoid testing the truth claim that it's positive. In other words, if you say it's 
negative or positive, you have to look at what it is. You have to get into it. But if you say 
it's neutral, that has worked pretty well at precluding this examination. Next, I want to 
provide a quote that keeps coming back to me, a very pregnant quote from a brilliant 
mathematician—and it's not Ted Kaczynski. It's the British mathematician, Alan Turing, 
and some of you, I'm sure, know that he established many of the theoretical foundations 
for the computer in the 1930s and 40s. Also, it would be worth mentioning that he took 
his own life in the 50s because of a prosecution stemming from the fact that he was gay, 
somewhat like the action against Oscar Wilde about 50 years earlier. Anyway, I mention 
that-and I don't want to belittle the tragic fact that he was gay and this was his end 
because of it— but he took his life by painting an apple with cyanide and biting into it, and 
it makes me think of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge and whether he was 
saying something about that, as we know what happened with that. We have work, 
agriculture, misery and technology out of that. And I also wonder, in passing, about 
Apple computers. Why would they use an apple? It's kind of a mystery to me. [laughter.] 
But anyway, after this digression, the quote that I was trying to get to here. In the middle 
of an article for the journal Mind in 1950, he said, "I believe that at the end of the 
century, the use of words in general educated opinion will have altered so much that one 
will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted." Now, 
what I think is of a lot of interest here is that he doesn't say that by the end of the century 
we'll have computing machines (they were still called computing machines at that time) 
that have advanced so far that people won't have any trouble understanding, now, that 
machines think. He says, "...the use of words in general educated opinion will have 
altered so much." 

Now, I'm giving a reading of this which is probably different from what he had in mind, 
but when you think about it, this has to do with this question of the interrelationship of 
society and technology. I think he was quite right; again, not because artificial 
intelligence — it wasn't called that back then, of course— had advanced so far. Actually, it 
hasn't made very good on its ambitious claims, as I understand it. But some people now 
entertain that notion very seriously. In fact, there's even a small but considerable 
literature on whether machines feel and at what point machines live. And that isn't 
because Artificial Intelligence has gone very far, it seems to me. In the early '80s, there 
was an awful lot of talk about "just around the corner," and I'm not an expert on AI, but I 
don't think it has gone very far. It plays a pretty good game of chess, I guess, but I don't 
think it's anywhere near these other achievements, or levels. 

I think what explains the change in perception about computers is the deformation caused 
by the massive amount of alienation that has happened in the past 50 years or so. That's 
why some, and I hope not many, hold to this point about computers living. 
In terms of what they are capable of, it seems to me, when you have the distance 
narrowing between humans and machines in the sense that if we are becoming more 
machine-like, it's easier to see the machine as more human-like. I don't want to be overly 
dramatic about it, but I think more and more people wonder, is this living or are we just 
going through the motions? What's happening? Is everything being leached out of life? Is 
the whole texture and values and everything kind of draining away? Well, that would 
take many other lectures, but it's not so much the actual advance of the technology: If 

machines can be human, humans can be machines. The truly scarey point is the 
narrowing of the distance between the two. 

Another quotation to similarly mark this descent, if you will, is a short one from a 
computer communications expert, J.C.R. Licklider. In 1968 he said, "In the future, we'll 
be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face-to-face." If that 
isn't estrangement, I don't know what is. At the same time, one striking aspect in terms of 
cultural development is that the concept of alienation is disappearing, has almost 
disappeared. If you look at the indices of books in the last, say, 20 years, "alienation" isn't 
there any more. It has become so banal, I guess, what's the point of talking about it? 
I was reading a recent review on another subject by the political theorist, Anthony 
Giddens, I think it's Sir Anthony Giddens, actually. He found it remarkable that 
"capitalism has disappeared as an object of study, just when it has removed any 
alternative to itself." One might think, what else is there to study in the absence of any 
other system? But no one talks about it. It's just a given. It's another commonplace that is 
apparently just accepted and not scrutinized. And, of course, capital is increasingly 
technologized. A kind of obvious point. The people who think that it's about surfing the 
Net and exchanging e-mail with your cousin in Idaho or something, obviously neglect the 
fact that the movement of capital is the computer's basic function. The computer is there 
for faster transactions, the faster movement of commodities and so on. That shouldn't 
even have to be pointed out. 

So anyway, back to the theme of how the whole field or groundwork moves and our 
perception of technology and the values we attach to it change, usually pretty 
imperceptibly. Freud said that the fullness of civilization will mean universal neurosis. 
And that sounds kind of too sanguine, when you think about it. I'm very disturbed by 
what I see. I live in Oregon, where the rate of suicide among 15- to-19year olds has 
increased 600% since 1961. I find it hard to see this as other than youth getting to the 
threshold of adulthood and society and looking out, and what do they see? They see this 
bereft place. I'm not saying they consciously go through that sort of formulation, but 
some kind of assessment takes place, and some just opt out. 

A study of several of the most developed countries is showing that the rate of serious 
depression doubles about every ten years. So I guess that means if there aren't enough 
people on anti-depressants right now, just to get through the day, we'll all be taking them 
before long. You can just extrapolate from this chilling fact. If you look for a reason why 
that won't keep going, what would that be without a pretty total change? 
And many other things. The turn away from literacy. That's a pretty basic thing that is 
somewhat baffling, but it isn't baffling if you think that people are viscerally turning 
away from what doesn't have meaning anymore. The outbursts of multiple homicides. 
That used to be unheard of, even in this violent country, just a few decades ago. Now it's 
spreading to all the other countries. You can hardly pick up the paper without seeing 
some horrendous thing in McDonald's or at a school or some place in Scotland or New 
Zealand, as well as L.A. or wherever in the U.S. 

Rancho Santa Fe. You probably remember this quote from the news. It's from a woman 
who was part of the Heaven's Gate group there. "Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't care. I've 
been here 31 years, and there's nothing here for me." I think that speaks for quite a lot of 
people who are surveying the emptiness, not just cult members. 

So we're seeing the crisis of inner nature, the prospect of complete dehumanization, 
linking up with the crisis of outer nature, which is obviously ecological catastrophe. And 
I won't bore you with the latter; everyone here knows all its features, the accelerating 
extinction of species, etc., etc. Up in Oregon, for example, the natural, original forest is 
virtually one hundred percent gone; the salmon are on the verge of extinction. Everybody 
knows this. And it's greatly urged along by the movement of technology and all that is 
involved there. 

Marvin Minsky--I think this was in the early '80s— said that the brain is a three-pound 
computer made of meat. He's one of the leading Artificial Intelligence people. And we 
have all the rest. We have Virtual Reality. People will be flocking to that, just to try to get 
away from an objective social existence that is not too much to look at or deal with. The 
cloning of humans, obviously is just a matter of probably months away. Fresh horrors all 
the time. Education. Get the kids linked up when they're five or so to the computer. They 
call it "knowledge production." And that's the best thing you could say about it. 
I want to read one quote here from Hans Moravec from Carnegie-Mellon, who is a 
contributor to the periodical Extropy. He says, "The final frontier will be urbanized 
ultimately into an arena where every bit of activity is a meaningful computation. The 
inhabited portion of the universe will be transformed into a cyberspace. We might then be 
tempted to replace some of our innermost mental processes with more cyberspace- 
appropriate programs purchased from artificial intelligence and so, bit by bit, transform 
ourselves into something much like it. Ultimately, our thinking procedures could be 
totally liberated from any traces of our original body, indeed of any body." I don't think 
that requires any comment. 

But, of course, there have been contrary voices. There have been analyses by people who 
have been pretty worried about the whole development. One of the best is Horkheimer 
and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment, written in the '40s. If technology is not neutral, 
they argue very forcefully, reason isn't a neutral thing either, when you think about it. 
They raise a critique of what they call "instrumental reason." Reason, under the sign of 
civilization and technology, is fundamentally biased toward distancing and control. I'm 
not going to try to sum up the whole thing in a few words, but one of the memorable parts 
of this was their look at Odysseus from the Odyssey, from Homer, one of the basic texts 
of European civilization, where Odysseus is trying to sail past the sirens. Horkheimer and 
Adorno demonstrate that this depicts at a very early point the tension between the 
sensuous, Eros, pre-history, pre-technology, and the project of going past that and doing 
something else. Odysseus has his oarsmen tie him to the mast, and stuff their own ears 
with wax, so he won't be tempted by pleasure and he can get through to the repressive, 
non-sensuous life of civilization and technology. 

Of course, there are many other markers of estrangement. Descartes, 350 years ago: "We 
have to become the masters and possessors of nature." But what I think is also worth 
pointing out in a critique like Horkheimer and Adorno's and many others, is that if 
society doesn't subdue nature, society always will be subjected to nature and, in effect, 
there probably won't be any society. So they always put that caveat, that qualification, 
which is to their credit for honesty; but it puts a brake on the implications of their 
critique. It makes it less a black-and-white thing, obviously, because, well, we can't really 
get away from domination of nature, and that's what the whole thing is based on, our very 
existence. We can criticize the technological life, but where would we be without it? 

But something that I think has very, very enormous implications has happened in the last 
20 or 30 years, and I don't think it has yet got out very much. There has been a wholesale 
revision in scholarly ideas of what life outside of civilization really was. One of the basic 
ideological foundations for civilization, for religion, the state, police, armies, everything 
else, is that you've got a pretty bloodthirsty, awful, subhuman condition before 
civilization. It has to be tamed and tutored and so on. It's Hobbes. It's that famous idea 
that pre-civilized life was nasty, brutish and short; and so to rescue or enable humanity 
away from fear and superstition, from this horrible condition into the light of civilization, 
you must have what Freud called the "forcible renunciation of instinctual freedom." You 
just have to. That's the price. Anyway, that turns out to be completely wrong. Certainly, 
there are disagreements about some of the parts of the new paradigm, some of the details, 
and I think most of the literature doesn't draw out its radical implications. But since about 
the early 70s, we have a starkly different picture of what life was like in the two million 
or so years before civilization, a period that ended about 10,000 years ago, almost no time 
at all. 

Prehistory is now characterized more by intelligence, egalitarianism and sharing, leisure 
time, a great degree of sexual equality, robusticity and health, with no evidence at all of 
organized violence. I mean, that's just staggering. It's virtually a wholesale revision. 
We're still living, of course, with the cartoonish images, the caveman pulling the woman 
into the cave, Neanderthal as meaning somebody who is a complete brute and subhuman, 
and so on. But the real picture has been wholly revised. 

I won't take time here to go into the evidence and the arguments, but I want to mention 
just a couple of them. For example, how do we know about sharing? That sounds like 
some kind of '60s assertion, right? But it's simple things like examining the evidence 
around hearths, around fire sites, probably in impermanent settlements. If you found 
around one fire you've got all the goodies there, well, that looks like the chief and 
everybody else has little or nothing. But if everybody has about exactly the same amount 
of stuff, it argues for a condition of equality. Thomas Wynn has helped us see prehistoric 
intelligence in a different light. He drew on Piaget quite a bit in terms of what is 
congealed and/or concealed in even a simple stone tool, and he deconstructed it to bring 
out about eight different stages and steps and aspects to what it takes to actually take 
something like that and make a tool out of it. And he concluded—and this hasn't been 
refuted that I see anywhere in the literature—that at least a million years ago, Homo had 
an intelligence equal to that of the adult human today. So one would have said, well, 
okay, even if it was kind of rosy prior to culture, our distant ancestors were just so dim 
they couldn't figure out how to establish agriculture, hierarchy and all the other 
wonderful things. But if that's not true, then you start looking at the whole picture quite 

One other thing: the book Stone Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins came out in 1971, 
and a lot of his argument is based on existing hunter-gatherer peoples, on just simply 
seeing how much they worked— which was very, very little. By the way, he was the 
chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Michigan, so we're not 
talking about some crank, or a marginal figure. If you look at the literature in 
anthropology and archaeology, you see quite amazing corrections to what we had 
thought. It makes you start to think, I guess perhaps civilization wasn't such a good idea. 

The question always asked was why did it take humanity so long to figure out 
agriculture? I mean, they just thought of it yesterday, relatively, less than 10,000 years 
ago. Now the question is, why did they ever take up agriculture? Which is really the 
question of why did they ever take up civilization? Why did they ever start our divison- 
of-labor-based technology? If we once had a technology, if you want to call it that, based 
on pretty much zero division of labor, for me that has pretty amazing implications and 
makes me think that somehow it's possible to get back there in some way or another. We 
might be able to reconnect to a higher condition, one that sounds to me like a state of 
nearness to reality, of wholeness. 

I'm getting pretty close to the end here. I want to mention Heidegger. Heidegger, of 
course, is thought of by many as one of the deepest or most original thinkers of the 
century. He felt that technology is the end of philosophy, and that's based on his view that 
as technology encompasses more and more of society, everything becomes grist for it and 
grist for production, even thinking. It loses its separateness, its quality of being apart 
from that. His point is worth mentioning just in passing. And now I get to one of my 
favorite topics, postmodernism, which I think is exactly what Heidegger would have had 
in mind if he had stuck around long enough to see it. I think that here we have a rather 
complete abdication of reason with postmodernism in so many ways. It's so pervasive, 
yet so many people don't seem to know what it is. Though we are completely immersed 
in it, few, even now, seem to have a grasp of it. Perhaps this, in its way, is similar to the 
other banalities I referred to earlier. Namely, that which has overpowered what is alien to 
it is simply accepted and rarely analyzed. 

So I started having to do some homework, and I've done some writing on it since, and 
one of the fundamental things—and sorry, for people who already know this— comes from 
Lyotard in the 70s, in a book called The Postmodern Condition. He held that 
postmodernism is fundamentally "antipathy to meta-narratives," meaning it's a refusal of 
totality, of the overview, of the arrogant idea that we can have a grasp of the whole. It's 
based on the idea that the totality is totalitarian. To try to think that you can get some 
sense of the whole thing? That's no good. And I think a lot of it, by the way, is a reaction 
against Marxism, which held sway for so long in France among the intelligentsia; I think 
there was an overreaction because of that. 

So you have an anti-totality outlook and an anti-coherence outlook, even, because that 
too is suspect and even thought to be a nasty thing. After all, (and here's where he 
probably concurred with Horkheimer and Adorno), what has Enlightenment thinking 
brought us? What has modernist, overview, totality-oriented thinking got us? Well, you 
know, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, neutron bombs. You don't have to defend those things, 
though, to get a sense that maybe postmodernism is throwing everything away and has no 
defenses against, for one thing, an onrushing technology. 

Similarly, postmodernists are against the idea of origins. They feel that the idea of origins 
is a false one (these are all big generalizations; there are probably some with slightly 
different emphases). We are in culture. We've always been in culture. We always will be 
in culture. So we can't see outside of culture. So something like nature versus culture is 
just a false notion. Thus they deny that, too, and further inhibit understanding the present. 
You can't go back to any origins or beginning points of causation or development. 
Relatedly, history is a fairly arbitrary fiction; one version is about as good as another. 
There's also emphasis on the fragmentary, pluralism, diversity, the random. But I ask 

you, where is the random? Where is the diversity? Where is it? To me, the world is 
getting so stark and monolithic in terms of the general movement of things and what the 
meaning of this movement is. To play around with this emphasis on margins and 
surfaces, this attitude that you can't get below the surface, to me is ethical and intellectual 
cowardice. "Truth and meaning?" Well, that's just nonsense. That's passe. Always put 
terms like that in quotes. You see pretty much everything in quotes when you look at 
postmodern writing. So it's a lot of irony, of course. Irony verging on cynicism is what 
you can now see everywhere in popular culture. In terms of postmodernism, that's close 
to the whole thing. Everything is shifting. It's just so splintered. I don't quite get how it is 
possible to evade what is going on vis-a-vis the individual and what is left of nature. 
I think postmodernism is a great accomplice to technology, and often is an explicit 
embrace of it. Lyotard said that "data banks are the new nature." Of course, if he rules out 
origins, how does he know what nature is? They have their own set of totality-type 
assumptions, but they don't want to cop to it. It's only the old-fashioned people, I guess, 
who don't want to play that game. One more quote: this is from a Professor Escobar in 
the June 1994 issue of Current Anthropology. It really has a lot to do with how 
technology defines what is the norm and what is ruled out. He said, "Technological 
innovations in dominant world views generally transform each other so as to legitimate 
and naturalize the technologies of the time. Nature and society come to be explained in 
ways that reinforce the technological imperatives of the day." I think that's really well 

So I started with one basic fallacy about technology. Technology is not neutral, not a 
discrete tool separate from its social placement or development as part of society. I think 
the other one is that, okay, you can talk all you want about technology, but it's here, it's 
inexorable, and what's the point of talking about it? Well, it isn't inevitable. It's only 
inevitable if we don't do anything about it. If we just go along, then it is inevitable. I think 
that's the obvious challenge. The unimaginable will happen. It's already happening. And 
if we have a future, it will be because we stand up to it, and have a different vision, and 
think about dismantling it. 

I also think, by the way, that if we have a future, we may have a different idea about who 
the real criminals are, and who the Unabomber might be seen to resemble: John Brown, 
perhaps; and who, like John Brown, tried to save us. 

That Thing We Do 

From the Latin re, or thing, reification is essentially thingification. Theodor Adorno, 
among others, asserted that society and consciousness have become almost completely 
reified. Through this process, human practices and relations come to be seen as external 
objects. What is living ends up treated as a non-living thing or abstraction, and this turn 
of events is experienced as natural, normal, unchallenged. 

In Tristes Tropiques, Claude Levi-Strauss provides an image of this reifying process, in 
terms of the atrophy of European civilization: "... like some aging animal whose 
thickening hide has formed an imperishable crust around its body and, by no longer 
allowing the skin to breathe, is hastening the aging process." The loss of meaning, 
immediacy, and spiritual vibrancy in Western civilization is a major theme in the works 
of Max Weber, and also bears on the reification of modern life. That this failing of life 
and enchantment seems somehow inevitable and unchangeable, largely just taken for 
granted, is as important as the reified outcome, and is inseparable from it. 

How did human activities and connections become separate from their subjects and take 
on a thing-like "life" of their own? And given the evident waning of belief in society's 
institutions and categories, what holds the "things" in thing-ified society together? 

Terms like reification and alienation, in a world more and more comprised of the starkest 
forms of estrangement, are no longer to be found in the literature that supposedly deals 
with this world. Those who claim to have no ideology are so often the most constrained 
and defined by the prevailing ideology they cannot see, and it is possible that the highest 
degree of alienation is reached where it no longer enters consciousness. 

Reification became a widely employed term as defined by the marxist Georg Lukacs: 
namely, a form of alienation issuing from the commodity fetishism of modern market 
relations. Social conditions and the plight of the individual have become mysterious and 
impenetrable as a function of what we now commonly refer to as consumerist capitalism. 
We are crushed and blinded by the reifying force of the stage of capital that began in the 
20 th century. 

I think, however, that it may be useful to re-cast reification so as to establish a much 
deeper meaning and dynamic. The merely and directly human is in fact being drained 
away as surely as nature itself has been tamed into an object. In the frozen universe of 
commodities, the reign of things over life is obvious, and that coldness that Adorno saw 
as the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity is plumbing new lows. 

But if reification is the central mechanism whereby the commodity form permeates the 
entire culture, it is also much more than that. Kant knew the term, and it was Hegel, soon 
after, who made major use of it (and objectification, its rough equivalent). He discovered 
a radical lack of being at the heart of the subject; it is here that we may fruitfully inquire. 

The world presents itself to us — and we re-present it. Why the need to do that? Do we 
know what symbols really symbolize? Is truth that which must be possessed, not re- 
presented? Signs are basically signals, that is, correlative; but symbols are substitutive. 

As Husserl put it, "The symbol exists effectively at the point where it introduced 
something more than life. . . " 1 
product of symbolization itself. 

something more than life. . . " Reification may be an unavoidable corollary or by- 

At a minimum, there seem to be reified fundamentals in all networks of domination. 
Calendars and clocks formalize and further reify time, which was likely the first 
reification of all. The divided social structure is a reified world largely because it is a 
symbolic structure of roles and images, not persons. Power crystallizes into networks of 
domination and hierarchy as reification enters the equation very early on. In the current 
productionist world, extreme division of labor fill- i fills its original meaning. Made 
increasingly passive and meaningless, '; we endlessly reify ourselves. Our mounting 
impoverishment approaches the condition in which we are mere things. 

Reification permeates postmodern culture, in which only appearances change, and appear 
alive. The dreadfulness of our postmodernity can be seen as a destination of the history of 
philosophy, and a destination of a good deal more than just philosophy. History qua 
history begins as loss of integrity, immersion in an external trajectory that tears the self 
into parts. The denial of human choice and effective agency is as old as division of labor; 
only its drastic development or fullness is new. 

About 250 years ago the German romantic Novalis complained that "the meaning of life 
has been lost." Widespread questioning of the meaning of life only began at about this 
time, just as industrialism made its very first inroads. 4 From this point on, an erosion of 
meaning has quickly accelerated, reminding us that the substitutive function of 
symbolization is also prosthetic. The replacement of the living by the artificial, like 
technology, involves a thing-ification. Reification is always, at least in part, a techno- 

Technology is "the knack of so arranging the world diat we need not experience it." 5 We 
are expected to deny what is living and natural within us in order to acquiesce in the 
domination of non-human nature. Technology has unmistakably become the great vehicle 
of reification. Not forgetting that it is embedded in and embodies an ever-expanding, 
global field of capital, reification subordinates us to our own objectified creations. 
("Things are in the saddle and ride mankind," observed Emerson in the mid- 19 th century.) 
Nor is this a recent turn of events; rather, it reflects the master code of culture, ab origino. 
The separation from nature, and its ensuing pacification and manipulation, make one ask, 
is the individual vanishing? Has culture itself set this in motion? How has it come to pass 
that a formulation as reified as "children are our most precious resource" does not seem 
repugnant to everyone? 

We are captives of so much that is not only instrumental, fodder for the functioning of 
other manipulable things, but also ever more simulated. We are exiles from immediacy, 

in a fading and flattening landscape where thought struggles to unlearn its alienated 
conditioning. Merleau-Ponty failed in his quest, but at least aimed at finding a primordial 
ontology of vision prior to the split between subject and object. It is division of labor and 
the resulting conceptual forms of thought that go unchallenged, delaying discovery of 
reification and reified thought. 

It is, after all, our whole way of knowing that has been so deformed and diminished, and 
that must be understood as such. "Intelligence" is now an externality to be measured, 
equated to proficiency in manipulating symbols. Philosophy has become the highly 
elaborate rationalization of reifications. And even more generally, being itself is 
constituted as experience and representation, as subject and object. These outcomes must 
be criticized as fundamentally as possible. 

The active, living element in cognition must be uncovered, beneath the reifications that 
mask it. Cognition, despite contemporary orthodoxy, is not computation. The philosopher 
Ryle glimpsed that a form of knowledge that does not rely on symbolic representation 
might be the basic one. 6 Our notions of reality are the products of an artificially 
constructed symbol system, whose components have hardened into reifications or 
objectifications over time, as division of labor coalesced into domination of nature and 
domestication of the individual. 

Thought capable of producing culture and civilization is distancing, non-sensuous. It 
abstracts from the subject and becomes an independent object. It's telling that sensations 
are much more resistant to reification than are mental images. Platonic discourse is a 
prime example of thinking that proceeds at the expense of the senses, in its radical split 
between perceptions and conceptions. Adorno draws attention to the healthier variant by 
his observation that in Walter Benjamin's writings "thought presses close to the object, as 
if through touching, smelling, tasting, it wanted to transform itself." And Le Roy is 
probably very close to the mark with "we resign ourselves to conception only for want of 
perception." Historically determined in the deepest sense, the reification aspect of 
thought is a further cognitive "fall from grace." 

Husserl and others figured symbolic representation as originally designed to be only a 
temporary supplement to authentic expression. 

Reification enters the picture in a somewhat parallel fashion, as representation passes 
from the status of a noun used for specific purposes to that of an object. Whether or not 
these descriptive theses are adequate, it seems at least evident that an ineluctable gap 
exists between the concept's abstraction and the richness of the web or phenomena. To 
the point here is Heidegger's conclusion that authentic thinking is "non-conceptual," a 
kind of "reverential listening." 9 

Always of the utmost relevance is the violence that a steadily encroaching technological 
ethos perpetrates against lived experience. Gilbert Germain has understood how the ethos 
forcefully promotes a "forgetfulness of the linkage between reflective thought and the 
direct perceptual experience of the world from which it arises and to which it ought to 

return." 10 Engels noted in passing that "human reason has developed in accordance with 
man's alteration of nature," 11 a mild way of referring to the close connection between 
objectifying, instrumen-talizing reason and progressive reification. 

In any case, the thought of civilization has worked to reduce the abundance that yet 
manages to surround us. Culture is a screen through which bur perceptions, ideas, and 
feelings are filtered and domesticated. According to Jean-Luc Nancy, the main thing 
representational thought represents is its limit. Heidegger and Wittgenstein, possibly the 
most original of 20th century thinkers, ended up disclaiming philosophy along these 

The reified life-world progressively removes what questions it. The literature on society 
raises ever fewer basic questions about society, and the suffering of the individual is now 
rarely related to even this unquestioned society. Emotional desolation is seen as almost 
entirely a matter of freely-occurring "natural" brain or chemical abnormalities, having 
nothing to do with the destructive context the individual is generally left to blindly endure 
in a drugged condition. 

On a more abstract level, reification can be neutralized by conflating it with 
objectification, which is defined in a way that places it beyond questioning. 
Objectification in this sense is taken to mean an awareness of the existence of subjects 
and objects, and the fact of the self as both subject and object. Hegel, in this vein, 
referred to it as the very essence of the subject, without which there can be no 
development. Adorno saw some reification as a necessary element in the necessary 
process of human objectification. As he became more pessimistic about the realization of 
a de-reified society, Adorno used reification and objectification as synonyms, 
completing a demoralized retreat from fully calling either term into question. 

I think it may be instructive to accept the two terms as synonymous, not to end up 
accepting them both but to entertain the notion of exploring basic alienation. All 
objectification requires an alienation of subject from object, which is fundamental, it 
would seem, to the goal of reconciling them. How did we get to this horrendous present, 
definable as a condition in which the reified subject and the reified object mutually entail 
one another? How is it that, as William Desmond put it, "the intimacy of being is 
dissolved in the modern antithesis of subject and object?" 

As the world is shaped via objectification, so is the subject: the world as a field of objects 
open to manipulation. Objectification, as the basis for the domination of nature as 
external, alien other, presents itself. Clearer still is the use of the term by Marx and 
Lukacs as the natural means by which humans master the world. 

The shift from objects to objectification, from reality to constructions of reality, is also 
the shift to domination and mystification. Objectification is the take-off point for culture, 
in that it is makes domestication possible. It reaches its full potential with the onset of 
division of labor; the exchange principle itself moves on the level of objectification. 

Similarly, none of the institutions of divided society are powerful or determinative 
without a reified element. 

The philosopher Croce considered it sheer rhetoric to speak of a beautiful river or flower; 
to him, nature was stupid compared to art. This elevation of the cultural is possible only 
through objectification. The works of Kafka, on the other hand, portray the outcome of 
objectifying cultural logic, with their striking illustration of a reified landscape that 
crushes the subject. 

Representation and production are the foundations of reification, which cements and 
extends their empire. Reification's ultimately distancing, domesticating orientation 
decrees the growing separation between reduced, rigidified subjects and an equally 
objectified field of experience. As the Situationist line goes, today the eye sees only 
things and their prices. The genesis of this outlook is vastly older than their formulation 
denotes; the project of de-objectification can draw strength from the human condition that 
obtained before reification developed. A "future primitive" is called for, where a living 
involvement with the world, and fluid, intimate participation in nature will replace the 
thingified reign of symbolic civilization. 

The very first symptom of alienated life is the very gradual appearance of time. The first 
reification and increasingly the quintessential one, time is virtually synonymous with 
alienation. We are now so pervasively ruled and regulated by this "it" which of course 
has no concrete existence that thinking of a pre-civilized, timeless epoch is extremely 

Time is the symptom of symptoms to come. The relationship of subject and object must 
have been radically different before temporal distance advanced into the psyche. It has 
come to stand over us as an external thing — predecessor to work and the commodity, 
separate and dominating as described by Marx. This de-presentizing force implies that 
de-reification would mean a return to the eternal present wherein we lived before we 
entered the pull of history. 

E.M. Cioran asks, "How can you help resenting the absurdity of time, its march into the 
future, and all the nonsense about evolution and progress? Why go forward, why live in 

1 Q 

time." Walter Benjamin's plea for shattering the reified continuity of history was 
somewhat similarly based on his yearning for a wholeness or unity of experience. At 
some point, the moment itself matters and does not rely on other moments "in time." 

It was of course the clock that completed the reification, by dissociating time from human 
events and natural processes. Time by now was fully exterior to life and incarnated in the 
first fully mechanized device. In the 15 th century Giovanni Tortelli wrote that the clock 
"seems to be alive, since it moves of its own accord." Time had come to measure its 
contents, no longer contents measuring time. We so often say we "don't have time," but it 
is the basic reification, time, that has us. 

Fragmented life cannot become the norm without the primary victory of time. The 
complexity, particularity, and diversity of all living creatures cannot be lost to the 
standardizing realm of the quantitative without this key objectification. 

The question of the origin of reification is a compelling one that has rarely been pursued 
deeply enough. A common error has been to confuse intelligence with culture; namely, 
the absence of culture is seen as equivalent to the absence of intelligence. This confusion 
is further compounded when reification is seen as inherent to the nature of mental 

i *y 

functioning. From Thomas Wynn and others we now know that pre-historic humans 
were our equals in intelligence. If culture is impossible without objectification, it does not 
follow that either is inevitable, or desirable. 

As suspicious as Adorno was of the idea of origins, he conceded that human conduct 

1 Q 

originally involved no objectification. Husserl was similarly able to refer to the 
primordial oneness of all consciousness prior to its dissociation. 

Bringing this condition of life into focus has proven elusive at best. LeVi-Strauss began 
his anthropological work with such a quest in mind: "I had been looking for a society 
reduced to its simplest expression. That of the Nambikwara was so truly simple that all I 


could find was human beings." In other words, he was really still looking for symbolic 
culture, and seemed ill-equipped to ponder the meaning of its absence. Herbert Marcuse 
wanted human history to conform to nature as a subject-object harmony, but he knew that 

7 1 

"history is the negation of nature." The postmodern outlook positively celebrates the 
reifying presence of history and culture by denying the possibility that a pre- 
objectificational state ever existed. Having surrendered to representation — and every 
other basic given of past, present, and future barrenness — the postmodernists could 
scarcely be expected to explore the genesis of reification. 

If not the original reification, language is the most consequential, as cornerstone of 
representational culture. Language is the reification of communication, a paradigmatic 
move that establishes every other mental separation. The philosopher W.V. Quine's 


variation on this is that reification arrives with the pronoun. 

"In the beginning was the Word ..." the beginning of all this, which is killing us by 
limiting existence to many things. Corollary of symbolization, reification is a sclerosis 
that chokes off what is living, open, natural. In place of being stands the symbol. If it is 
impossible for us to coincide with our being, Sartre argues in Being and Nothingness, 
then the symbolic is the measure of that non-coincidence. Reification seals the deal, and 
language is its universal currency. 

An exhausted symbolic mediation with less and less to say prevails in a world where that 
mediation is now seen as the central, even defining fact of life. In an existence without 
vibrancy or meaning, nothing is left but language. The relation of language to reality has 
dominated 20 th century philosophy. Wittgenstein, for example, was convinced that the 
foundation of language and of linguistic meaning is the very basis of philosophy. 

This "linguistic turn" appears even more profound if we consider the entire species-sense 
of language, including its original impact as a radical departure. Language has been 
fundamental to our obligation to objectify ourselves, in a milieu that is increasingly not 
our own. Thus it is absurd for Heidegger to say that the truth about language is that it 
refuses to be objectified. The reificational act of language impoverishes existence by 
creating a universe of meaning sufficient unto itself. The ultimate "sufficient unto itself 
is the concept "God," and its ultimate description is, revealingly, "I am Who I 
am"(Exodus 4:14). We have come to regard the separate, self-enclosed nature of 
objectification as the highest quality, evidently, rather than as the debasement of the 
"merely" contingent, relational, connected. 

It has been recognized for some time that thought is not language-dependent and that 
language limits the possibilities of thought. ' Gottlob Frege wondered if to think in a non- 
reified way is possible, how it could be possible to explain how thinking can ever be 
reified. The answer was not to be found in his chosen field of formal logic. 

In fact, language does proceed as a thing external to the subject, and molds our cognitive 
processes. Classic psychoanalytic theory ignored language, but Melanie Klein discussed 
symbolization as a precipitant of anxiety. To translate Klein's insight into cultural terms, 
anxiety about erosion of a non-objectified life-world provokes language. We experience 
"the urge to thrust against language," when we feel that we have given up our voices, 
and are left only with language. The enormity of this loss is suggested in C.S. Peirce's 
definition of the self as mainly a consistency of symbolization; "my language," 
conversely, "is the sum total of my self," he concluded. Given this kind of reduction, is 
not difficult to agree with Lacan that induction into the symbolic world generates a 
persistent yearning that arises from one's absence from the real world. "The speechform 
is a mere sorrogate," wrote Joyce in Finnegan 's Wake. 

Language refutes every appeal to immediacy by dishonoring the unique and 
immobilizing the mobile. Its elements are independent entities from the consciousness 
that utters them, which in turn weigh down that consciousness. According to Quine, this 
reification plays a part in creating a "structured system of the world," by closing up the 
"loose ends of raw experience." Quine does not recognize the limiting aspects of this 
project. In his incomplete final work, the phenome-nologist Merleau-Ponty began to 
explore how language diminishes an original richness, how it actually works against 

Language, as a separate medium, does indeed facilitate a structured system, based on 
itself, that deals with anarchic "loose ends" of experience. It accomplishes this, basically 
in the service of division of labor, by avoiding the here and now of experience. "Seeing is 


forgetting the name of the thing one sees," an anti-reification statement by Paul Valery, 
suggests how words get in the way of direct apprehension. The Murngin of northern 
Australia saw name-giving as a kind of death, the loss of an original wholeness. A 
pivotal moment of reification occurred when we succumbed to names and became 
inscribed in letters. It is perhaps when we most need to express ourselves, fully and 
completely, that language most clearly reveals its reductive and inarticulate nature. 

Language itself corrupts, as Rousseau claimed in his famous dream of a community 
stripped of it. The path beyond the claims of reification involves breaking 
representation's age-old spell. 

Another basic avenue of reification is ritual, which originated as a means to instill 
conceptual and social order. Ritual is an objectified schema of action, involving symbolic 
behavior that is standardized and repetitive. It is the first fetishizing of culture, and points 
decisively toward domestication. Concerning the latter, ritual can be seen as the original 
model of calculability of production. Along these lines, Georges Condominas challenged 
the distinction that is ordinarily made between ritual and agriculture. His fieldwork in 
Southeast Asia led him to see ritual as an integral component of the technology of 
traditional farming. 

Mircea Eliade has described religious rites as real only to the extent that they imitate or 
symbolically repeat some kind of archetypal event, adding that participation is felt to be 
genuine only to the extent of this identification; that is, only to the extent that the 


participant ceases to be himself or herself." Thus the repetitive ritual act is very closely 
related to the depersonalizing, devaluing essence of division of labor, and at the same 
time approaches a virtual definition of the reifying process itself. To lose oneself in fealty 
to an earlier, frozen event or moment: to become reified, a thing that owes its supposed 
authenticity to some prior reification. 

Religion, like the rest of culture, springs from the false notion of the necessity for combat 
against the forces of nature. The powers of nature are reified, along with those of their 
religious or mythological counterparts. From animism to deism, the divine develops 
against a natural world depicted as increasingly threatening and chaotic. J.G. Frazier saw 
religious and magical phenomena as "the conscious conversion of what had hitherto been 
regarded as living beings into impersonal substances."' To deify is to reify, and a 
November 1997 discovery by archaeologist Juan Vadeum helps us situate the 
domesticating context of this movement. In Chiapas, Mexico, Vadeum found four Mayan 
stone carvings that represent original "grandfathers" of wisdom and power. 

Significantly, these figures of seminal importance to Mayan religion and cosmology 
symbolize War, Agriculture, Trade, and Tribute. As Feuerbach noted, every important 
stage in the history of human civilization begins with religion," " and religion serves 
civilization both sub-stantively and formally. In its formal aspect, the reifying nature of 
religion is the most potent contribution of all. 

Art is the other early objectification of culture, which is what makes it into a separate 
activity and gives it reality. Art is also a quasi-utopian promise of happiness, always 
broken. The betrayal resides largely in the reification. "To be a work of art means to set 
up a world," according to Heidegger," but this counter-world is powerless against the 
rest of the objectified world of which it remains a part. 

Georg Simmel described the triumph of form over life, the danger posed to individuality 
by the surrender to form. The dualism of form and content is the blueprint for reification 
itself, and partakes in the basic divisions of class society. 

At base there is an abstract and somewhat narrow similarity to all aesthetic appearance. 
This is due to a severe restriction of the sensual, enemy number one of reification. And 
remembering our Freud, it is the curbing of Eros that makes culture possible. Can it be an 
accident that the three senses that are excluded from art — touch, smell, and taste — are the 
senses of sensual love? 

Max Weber recognized that culture "appears as man's emancipation from the organically 
prescribed cycle of natural life. For this very reason," he continued, "culture's every step 
forward seems condemned to lead to an ever more devastating senselessness." The 
representation of culture is followed by pleasure in representation that replaces pleasure 
per se. The will to create culture overlooks the violence in and of culture, a violence that 
is inescapable given culture's basis in fragmentation and separation. Every reification 
forgets this. 

For Homer, the idea of barbarism was of a piece with the absence of agriculture. Culture 
and agriculture have always been linked by their common basis of domestication; to lose 
the natural within us is to lose nature without. One becomes a thing in order to master 

Today the culture of global capitalism abandons its claim to be culture, even as the 
production of culture exceeds the production of goods. Reification, the process of culture, 
dominates when all awaits naturalization, in a constantly transformed environment that is 
"natural" in name only. Objects themselves — and even the "social" relationships among 
them — are seen as real only insofar as they are recognized as existing in mediaspace or 

A domesticating reification renders everything, including us, its objects. And these 
objects possess less and less originality or aura, as discussed by commentators from 
Baudelaire and Morris to Benjamin and Baudrillard. "Now from America empty 
indifferent things are pouring across, sham things, dummy life," wrote Rilke. 3 
Meanwhile the whole natural world has become a mere object. 

Postmodern practice severs things from their history and context, as in the device of 
inserting "quotations" or arbitrarily juxtaposed elements from other periods into music, 
painting, novels. This gives the objects a rootless autonomy of sorts, while subjects have 
little or none. 

We seem to be objects destroyed by objectification, our grounding and authenticity 
leached away. We are like the schizophrenic who actively experiences himself as a thing. 

There is a coldness, even a deadness, that is becoming impossible to deny. A palpable 
sense of "something missing" inheres in the unmistakable impoverishment of a world 

objectifying itself. Our only hope may-lie precisely in the fact that the madness of the 
whole is so apparent. 

It is still maintained that reification is an ontological necessity in a complex world, which 
is exactly the point. The de-reifying act must be the return to simple, non-divided life. 
The life congealed and concealed in petrified thingness cannot reawaken without a vast 
undoing of this ever-more standardized, massified lost world. 

Until fairly recently — until civilization — nature was a subject, not an object. In hunter- 
gatherer societies no strict division or hierarchy existed between the human and the non- 
human. The participatory nature of vanished connectedness has to be restored, that 
condition in which meaning was lived, not objectified into a grid of symbolic culture. The 
very positive picture we now have of pre-history establishes a perspective of anticipatory 
remembrance: there is the horizon of subject-object reconciliation. 

This prior participation with nature is the reverse of the domination and distancing at the 
heart of reification. It reminds us that all desire is a desire for relationship, at its best 
reciprocal and animate. To enable this nearness or presence is a gigantic practical project, 
that will make an end to these dark days. 



1. Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (New York, 1972), p. 382. 

2. Edmund Husserl, Le Discours et le Symbole (Paris, 1962), p. 66. 

3. Novalis, Schriften, vol. II (Stuttgart, 1965-1977), p. 594. 

4. Iddo Landau, "Why Has the Question of the Meaning of Life Arisen in the Last Two and a Half 
Centuries?" Philosophy Today, Summer 1967. 

5. Quote attributed to the playwright Max Frisch. Source unknown. 

6. Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of 'Mind (London, 1949) 

7. Theodor Adorno, Prisms (Cambridge, 1981), p. 240. 

8. Eduoard Le Roy, The New Philosophy of Henri Bergson (New York, 1913), p. 156. 

9. Martin Heidegger, "What is Thinking?" in Basic Writings (New York, 1969) 

10. Gilbert B. Germain, A Discourse on Disenchantment (Albany, 1992), p. 126. 

11. Friedrich Engels, Dialectic of Nature (Moscow, 1934), p. 231. 

12. Jean-Luc Nancy, The Birth to Presence (Stanford, 1993), p. 2. 

13. Theodor Adorno, Prisms (Cambridge, 1983) p. 262, for example. 

14. William Desmond, Perplexity and Ultimacy (Albany, 1995), p. 64. 

15. E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair (Chicago, 1990), p. 126. 

16. Giovanni Tortelli, De Orthographia, 1471. 

17. Thomas Wynn, The Evolution of Spatial Competence (Urbana, \[ 

18. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (Minneapolis, 1997), pp. 118, 184. 

19. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (Evanston, 

20. Levi-Strauss, op.cit., p. 358. 

21. Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston, 1964), p. 236. 

22. W.V. Quine, From Stimulus to Science (Cambridge, 1995), p. 27. 

23. Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Roots of Thinking (Philadelphia, 1990) 

24. Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics," Philosophical Review74(l965),p. 12. 

25. C.S. Peirce, Collected Papers (Cambridge, 1931-1958), vol. 5, pp. 28, 29. 

26. Quine, op.cit., p. 29. 

27. Quotation is title of Robert Irwin's autobiographical work (Berkeley, 1982). 

28. Bradd B. Shore, Culture in Mind (New York, 1996), p. 222. 

29. Georges Condominas, We Have Eaten the Forest (New York, 1977). 

30. Mircea Eliade, quoted in False Consciousness, by Joseph Gabel (Oxford, 1975), p. 39. 

31. J.G. Frazier, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (New York, 1932-36), XLIX, p. 74. 

32. Mark Stevenson, "Mayan Stones Discovery May Confirm Ancient Text" (Associated Press, 
November 17, 1997). 

33. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion (New York, 1967), p. 209. 

34. Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art," in Basic Writings (New York, 1969), p. 170. 

35. Max Weber, "Religious Rejections of the World and their Directions," in Essays on Sociology, Hans 
Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds. (New York, 1958), pp. 356-357. 

36. Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters ofRilke, vol. 2 (New York, 1969), p. 374. 

Enemy of the State: 

an interview with John Zerzan by Derrick Jensen 

Mention anarchism and most people think of chaos, mayhem, and bomb- throwing. But 
for author and social critic John Zerzan, anarchism is not about people running wild in 
the streets. Rather, it's about eradicating all forms of domination. This includes not only 
the nation-state and the corporation, but also such internalized forms as patriarchy, 
racism, and homophobia. 

Zerzan has been tearing at the underpinnings of our culture for twenty-five years now, 
but he's best known for his most recent books, Elements of Refusal (soon to be reissued 
by C.A.L. Press) and Future Primitive (Autonomedia). He has also published essays on 
everything from "Why I Hate Star Trek" to "The Failure of Symbolic Thought." In all his 
writing, he attempts to expose the ways philosophy, religion, economics, and other 
ideological constructions rationalize domination by making it seem a natural 
manifestation of Darwinian selection, or God's will, or economic exigency. He 
encourages us to look at those elements we accept as facts of life and try to see how they, 
too, facilitate domination. Even more fundamentally, he proposes a relationship between 
domination and time, number, even language itself. 

My conversation with Zerzan, at his home in Eugene, Oregon, was as free-form as I 
might have expected of a meeting between two anarchists. (Though I call myself an 
anarchist, I'd never before met one outside the covers of a book.) What I hadn't expected 
was Zerzan's soft-spoken character. His writing is so sharp, uncompromising, and 
tenacious that I'd halfway feared he would be as fierce in person as he is on the page. I 
was pleasantly disappointed: he is one of he most gracious and courteous people I've ever 
met. I shouldn't have been surprised. Anarchism, as he defines it, is not only the desire 
to be free of domination, but also the desire not to dominate others. 

Julie Mayeda also contributed to this interview. 

Jensen: Has a society ever existed in which relationships weren't based on 

Zerzan: That was the human condition for millions of years. It changed only ten 
thousand years ago, with the invention of agriculture, which led to civilization. Since 
that time, we have worked hard to convince ourselves that o such condition ever existed, 
that we must accept repression and subjugation as necessary antidotes to "evil" human 
nature. According to this school of thought, authority is a benevolent savior that rescued 
us from our precivilized existence of deprivation, brutality, and ignorance. Think about 
the images that come to mind when you hear the word cave man or Neanderthal. Those 
images are first implanted in our minds and then invoked to remind us how miserable we 
would be without religion, government, and toil. In fact, they are probably the biggest 
ideological justification for the whole of civilization. 

The problem wit those images, of course, is that they are inaccurate. There's been a 
revolution in the fields of anthropology and archaeology over the past thirty years, and 

increasingly people are coming to understand that life before agriculture and 
domestication - of animals and ourselves - was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy 
with nature, sensual wisdom, gender equality, and health. 

Jensen: How do we know this? 

Zerzan: In part through observing existing foraging peoples - those few we've not yet 
eliminated - and watching their egalitarian ways disappear under the pressures of habitat 
destruction and, often, direct coercion or murder. Also, at the other end of the time scale, 
through interpreting archaeological finds. For example, studying the hearth sites of 
ancient peoples, we don't find that one site has most of the goods, while the other sites 
have very few. Rather, time after time we find that all sites have about the same amount 
of belongings - evidence of a people whose way of life is based on equality and sharing. 

A third source of knowledge is the accounts of early European explorers, who again 
and again wrote of the generosity and gentleness of the peoples they encountered, all 
around the globe. 

Jensen: How do you respond to skeptics who say this is all just "noble savage" 

Zerzan: I respectfully suggest they read more within the field. This isn't anarchist 
theory. It's mainstream anthropology and archaeology. There are disagreements about 
some of the details, but not about the general structure. 

Jensen: But what about headhunters and cannibals? 

Zerzan: Considering that our culture invented napalm and nuclear weapons, I'm not 
sure we're in a position to judge the smaller scale violence of other cultures. But it's 
important to note that none of the cannibal or headhunting groups were true hunter- 
gatherers. They had already begun to use agriculture. It is now generally conceded that 
agriculture usually leads to a rise in labor, a decrease in sharing, an increase in violence, 
and a shorter life expectancy. This is not to say that all agricultural societies are violent, 
but rather that violence is by and large not characteristic of true hunter-gatherers. 

Jensen: If things were so great before, then why did agriculture begin? 

Zerzan: That's a difficult question, one that's long been a source of frustration for 
anthropologists and archeologists. For many hundreds of thousands of years - the whole 
Lower and Middle Paleolithic - there was little change. Then suddenly, in the Upper 
Paleolithic, there's this explosion, seemingly out of nowhere: all at once there is art, and, 
on the heels of that, agriculture, then religion. 

Some have theorized that the sudden change was due to a growth in intelligence, but 
we now know that human intelligence a million years ago was equal to what it is today. 
A recent piece in Nature magazine, for example, suggests that humans have been sailing 
and navigating around Micronesia, a widespread group of tiny Pacific islands, for some 

eight hundred thousand years. So the reason civilization didn't arise earlier had nothing 
to do with intelligence. The intelligence theory has always been a comforting and racist 
rationalization, anyway: comforting because it implies that anyone intelligent enough will 
necessarily build a lifestyle like ours, and racist because it implies that those humans who 
live primitive lifestyles today are simply too stupid to do otherwise. If they were just 
smart enough, the reasoning goes, they would invent asphalt, chain saws, and 

We also know that the transitions to agriculture didn't come in response to population 
pressures. Population has always been another big puzzle: how did foragers keep their 
populations so low when they didn't have birth-control technologies? Historically, it's 
been assumed they used infanticide, but that theory has been called into question. I 
believe that, in addition to using various plants as contraceptives, they were also much 
more in tune with their bodies. 

Jensen: So why was the human way of life stable for so long, and why did it 
change so quickly? 

Zerzan: I think it was stable because it worked, and I don't think it changed entirely at 
once. For many millennia there was, perhaps, a slow slippage into division of labor. It 
would have to have happened so slowly - almost imperceptibly - that people didn't see 
what they were in danger of losing. The alienation brought about by division of labor - 
alienation from each other, from the natural world, from our bodies - eventually reached 
critical mass, giving sudden rise to what we call civilization. As to how civilization itself 
took hold, I think Sigmund Freud got it right when he said, "Civilization is something 
which was imposed on a resisting majority by a minority which understood how to obtain 
possession of the means of power and coercion." We see this happening today, and 
there's no reason to believe it was any different at the start. 

Jensen: What's wrong with division of labor? 

Zerzan: If your primary goal in life is mass production, then nothing at all. Division 
of labor is central to our way of life. Each person must perform as a tiny cog in a big 
machine. If, on the other hand, your primary goal is wholeness, egalitarianism, 
autonomy, and an intact world, then there's quite a lot wrong with it. 

Division of labor is generally seen - when it is noticed at all - as a "given" of modern 
life. All that we see around us would be completely impossible without it. And that's the 
trouble: undoing the mess civilization has made will mean undoing division of labor. 

I think that, at base, a person is not complete or free insofar as that person's life 
depends on his or her being just some aspect of a process, some fraction of it. A divided 
life mirrors the basic divisions in society. Hierarchy, alienation - it all starts there. I 
don't think anyone would deny that specialists and experts exert effective control in the 
contemporary world, or that this control is increasing with ever-greater acceleration. 

Jensen: Such as in food production. Every year, fewer corporations control a 
greater percentage of our food resources. This is possible only because so many of 
us don't know how to raise our own food. 

Zerzan: And it's not just food. Not too long ago, you could make your own radio set. 
People did it all the time. Ten years ago, you could still work on your own car, but even 
that's becoming increasingly difficult. So we become more and more hostage to people 
with specialized skills, and to people who control specialized technologies. When you 
have to rely too much on others, when you don't have the skills to do what's needed on a 
day-to-day basis, you are diminished. 

Jensen: But isn't it necessary for us to rely on each other? 

Zerzan: Of course. The goal of anarchism is not to turn people into islands with no 
connection to others - quite the opposite. But it's important to understand the difference 
between the healthy interdependence of a functioning community and the one-way 
dependence of relying on others with specialized skills for your most basic needs. In the 
latter case, the specialists have power over you. Whether they are "benevolent" is beside 
the point. 

To stay in control, those who have specialized skills must guard and mystify those 
skills. The idea is that, without specialists, you'd be completely lost; you wouldn't know 
how to do the simplest thing, such as feed yourself. Well, humans have been feeding 
themselves for the past couple of million years, and doing it a lot more successfully and 
efficiently than we do now. The global food system is insane, inhumane, and inefficient. 
We destroy the world with pesticides, herbicides, and fossil-fuel emissions, and still 
billions of people go their entire lives never having enough to eat. Yet few things are 
simpler than growing or gathering your own food. 

Jensen: I interviewed a member of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, 
the group that last year took over the Japanese ambassador's house in Peru. I 
asked him what his movement wanted. He replied, "We want to grow and 
distribute our own food. We already know how to do it; we merely need to be 
allowed to do so." 

Zerzan: Exactly. 

Jensen: In your writing, you've proposed a relationship between time and 

Zerzan: Time is an invention of culture. It has no existence outside of culture. The 
degree to which a culture is ruled by time is a pretty exact measure of its alienation. 
Look at us. Everything in our lives is measured by time. Time has never been as 
palpable, as material as it is now. 

Jensen: The tick, tick, tick, of a clock is just about as tangible as you can get. 

Zerzan: Yes, it makes time concrete; it reifies it. Reification is when an abstract 
concept is treated as a material thing. A second of time is nothing, and to grant it 
independent existence runs counter to our experience of life. Anthropologist Lucien 
Levy-Bruhl wrote: "Our idea of time seems to be a natural attribute of the human mind, 
but that is a delusion. Such an idea scarcely exists where primitive mentality is 

"Primitive" people live in the present, as we all do when we're having fun. It has been 
said that the Mbuti of southern Africa believe that "by a correct fulfillment of the present, 
the past and the future will take care of themselves." 

For the North American Pawnee, life has a rhythm but not a progression. Primitive 
peoples generally have no interest in birthdays or measuring their ages. As for the future, 
they have little desire to control what does not yet exist, just as they have little desire to 
control nature. They keep track of the seasons, but this in no way robs them of the 
present. This point of view is hard for us to grasp, because the notion of time has been so 
deeply imbedded that it's nearly impossible to imagine it not existing. 

Jensen: So you're talking about more than just not counting seconds. 

Zerzan: I'm talking about time not existing. Time as a continuing thread that unravels 
in an endless progression, linking all events together while remaining independent of 
them - that doesn't exist. Sequence exists. Rhythm exists. But not time. This 
reification of time is related to the notion of mass production and division of labor. Tick, 
tick, tick, as you said: Identical seconds. Identical people. Identical chores repeated 
endlessly. But when you realize that no two occurrences are identical, and that each 
moment is different from the moment before, time simply disappears. If events are 
always novel, then not only is routine impossible, but the notion of time is meaningless. 

Jensen: And the opposite would be true as well. 

Zerzan: Exactly. Without the imposition of time, we can't impose routine. Freud 
repeatedly pointed out that in order for civilization to take hold, it first had to break the 
early hold of timeless and nonproductive gratification. 

This happened, I believe, in two stages. First, the rise of agriculture magnified the 
importance of time specifically, cyclical time, with its periods of intense labor associated 
with sowing or reaping, and with the surplus of the harvest allocated to the priests who 
kept the calendars. This was true of the Babylonians and Mayans. Then, with the 
rise of civilization, cyclical time which at least gave a nod toward the natural world, with 
it's connection to the rhythms of the seasons gave way to linear time. Once you have 
linear time, you have history, then Progress, then idolatry of the future. Now we're 
prepared to sacrifice species, cultures, and quite possibly the entire natural world on the 
alter of some imagined future. Once, it was at least a Utopian future, but as a society we 
don't even have that to believe in anymore. 

The same transformation occurs in our personal lives; we give up living in the moment 
in the hope of being happy at some point in the future — perhaps after we retire, or 

maybe even after we die and go to heaven. The emphasis on heaven itself emerges from 
the unpleasantness of living in linear time. 

Jensen: It seems to me that linear time not only leads to habitat degradation, but 
also springs from it. When I was young, there were many frogs. Now there are 
fewer. There were many songbirds. Now there are fewer. That's linear time. 

Zerzan: Yes, and with the introduction of the lock, linear time was transformed into 
mechanical time. The Christian Church was central to this endeavor. The Benedictines, 
who ruled forty thousand monasteries at the height in the Middle Ages, helped yoke 
human endeavor to the unnatural collective rhythm of the machine by forcing people to 
work "on the clock." 

The fourteenth century saw the first public clocks, as well as the division of hours into 
minutes and minutes into seconds. 

At every step of the way, however, time has been met with resistance. In France's July 
Revolution of 1830, for example, people all across Paris began spontaneously to shoot at 
public clocks. In the 1960's, many people (including me) quit wearing watches. Even 
today, children must be broken of their resistance to time. This was one of the 
primary reasons for the imposition of a mandatory school system on a largely unwilling 
public: school teaches you to be at a certain place at a certain time, and thus prepares you 
for life on the job. Raoul Vaneigem, member of the radical group Situationist 
International, has a wonderful quote about this: "The child's days escape adult time; their 
time is swollen by subjectivity, passion, dreams haunted by reality. Outside, the 
educators look on, waiting, watch in hand, till the child joins and fits the cycle of the 

Jensen: You've also said that numbers themselves alienate us. 

Zerzan: When members of a large family sit down to dinner, they know 
immediately, without counting, whether someone is missing. Counting becomes 
necessary only when things become homogenized. Not all peoples use number systems. 
The Yanomamo, for example, do not count past two. Obviously, they are not too stupid 
to count further; they simply have a different relationship with the world. 

The first number system was almost undoubtedly developed to count domesticated 
animals, as wild creatures were enslaved and harvested. We next see mathematics being 
used in Sumer about five thousand years ago, to facilitate business. Later, Euclid 
developed geometry literally, "land measuring" to measure fields for purposes of 
ownership, taxation, and the assignment of slave labor. Today the same imperative 
drives science, only now it is the entire universe we are trying to measure and enslave. 
Once again, this isn't obscure anarchist theory. Rene' Descartes, considered by many to 
be the father of modern science, declared that the aim of science is "to make us as 
masters and possessors of nature." He also declared the universe a giant clockwork, 
neatly tying these two forms of domination numbers and time together. 

Jensen: But isn't growth of new technology driven by simple curiosity? 

Zerzan: You hear people say that all the time: "You can't put the genie back in the 
bottle"; "you're asking people to forget." But that's just another attempt to rationalize 
craziness by calling it human nature. And it's a variant of the old racist intelligence 
theory: because the Hopi didn't invent backhoes, they must not be curious. Sure, people 
are naturally curious but about what? Would you or I aspire to create the neutron bomb? 
Of course not. But the fact that I don't want to create a neutron bomb doesn't mean I'm 
not curious. Curiosity is not value-free. Certain types of curiosity arise from certain 
mindsets, and our culture's curiosity follows the logic of alienation not simple wonder, or 
the desire to learn. 

Jensen: What does alienation mean to you? 

Zerzan: Karl Marx defined alienation as being separated from the means of 
production; instead of us producing things for our own use, the products of our labor are 
used against us by the system. I would take it a step further and say that alienation means 
being estranged from our own experiences, dislodged from our natural mode of being. 
The more technologized and artificial the world becomes, the more the natural world 
is evacuated, and the more 
alienated we become. 

I think predomesticated people were in touch with themselves in ways we can't even 
comprehend on the level of the senses, for example. Laurens Van der Post gives 
accounts of the San, a tribal people in southern Africa, hearing a single engine plane 
seventy miles away, and seeing four of the moons of Jupiter with the unaided eye. He 
also says that the San seemed to know what it actually felt like to be an elephant, a lion, 
or an antelope. What's more, this understanding was apparently reciprocated by the 
animal. There are scores of accounts by early European explorers describing the lack of 
fear wild animals showed toward humans. 

Jensen: Just last year I came across something written by eighteenth- century 
explorer Samuel Hearne, the first white man to explore northern Canada. He 
described Indian children playing with wolf pups. The children would paint the 
pups' faces with vermilion or red ocher, and, when they were done playing with 
them, return them unhurt to the den. Neither the pups nor the adult wolves seemed 
to mind at all. 

Zerzan: Now we gun them down from airplanes. That's progress for you. 

Jensen: More broadly, what has progress meant? 

Zerzan: Progress has meant ecological collapse and the near complete 
dehumanization of the individual. I think there are fewer people now than ever who 
believe in progress, but many still perceive it to be inevitable. We're certainly 
conditioned to accept its inevitability; we're held hostage to it, even. The idea of progress 
now is make everybody increasingly dependent on technology. We need high-tech 
medicine to keep us well, for example, but we're supposed to forget that technology 

created our health problems in the first place. Not just cancers caused by chemicals, but 
nearly all diseases are a result of either civilization, alienation, or gross habitat 

Jensen: I have Crohn's disease, a chronic digestive ailment that is virtually 
unheard-of in nonindustrialized nations, becoming common only as those nations 
industrialize. Industrial civilization is literally eating away at my guts. 

Zerzan: I think many people are beginning to understand how hollow the progress 
myth is. In fact, those in charge of the system don't even use the word progress much 
anymore. They talk about inertia, meaning, "This is it. Deal with it or get screwed." 
These days you don't hear about the American Dream or the "glorious new tomorrow." 
Now it's a global race to the bottom, as transnational corporations compete to see which 
can exploit workers and degrade the environment the most. Competition at the individual 
level works the same way. If you don't understand computers, you won't get a job. 
That's where progress has brought us. 

In spite of all this, I'm optimistic, because never before has our whole lifestyle been 
revealed at least, to those willing to see it for the sham that it is. 

Jensen: Even if we do see through the lies, what is there for us to do? 

Zerzan: The first thing is to question the status quo, to make certain that public 
discourse deals with these life-and-death issues, rather than avoiding and denying them. 
This denial can't hold up much longer, because there's such a jarring contrast between 
reality and what we're being told, especially in this country. 

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we can go on living with that contrast forever. The 
Unabomber posited in his manifesto that people could wind up so conditioned they won't 
even notice there's no natural world anymore, no freedom, no fulfillment. They'll just 
take their Prozac every day, limp along, dyspeptic and neurotic, and figure that's all there 

The Unabomber is a perfect example of why we need to redefine acceptable discourse 
in this society. His point of view was so suppressed that he thought he had to kill people 
to bring it up. That says something about the level of denial and repression in our public 
discussion. This denial is not going to be changed by little reforms, any more than the 
planet is going to be saved by recycling. To think it will is not just silly, it's criminal. 
We have to face what's going on. Once we've faced reality, then together we can figure 
out how to change it. 

Personally, I'm betting that demonstrable impoverishment on every level will goad 
people into questioning the system and mustering the will to confront it. Perhaps, right 
now, we're in the dark before the dawn. I remember Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional 
Man was published, around 1964. In it, he was saying that people were so manipulated 

by modern consumerist society that there could be no hope for change. And then, within 
a couple of years, people woke up. 

The sixties helped shape my own optimism. I was in the right place at the right time: 
in college at Stanford, then living in Haight-Ashbury, with Berkley just across the bay. I 
agree with people who say the sixties didn't even scratch the surface of what needed to be 
done, but you could get a sense of possibility then, a sense that if things kept going the 
way they were, there was a chance of society finding a different path. 

Things didn't keep going that way, of course, but thirty years later I still carry that 
sense of possibility, and it warms me, even though the situation is frozen and awful. 
Sometimes I'm amazed that young people today can have any hope, because I'm not sure 
they've seen any movement succeed even partially. 

Jensen: Some say that the sixties were the last big burst of social change, and 
from then on it's been downhill. 

Zerzan: I sometimes think of it that way, as if it was the big bang, and everything's 
been cooling ever since. The punk explosion in 1976 was very exciting, but there was no 
sense that it would kick-start a new round of change. 

I think we're coming up on something much bigger than the sixties, however -- not only 
because we have to in order to survive, but because we have fewer illusions now. Back 
then we had a tremendously high level of idealism, much of it misplaced. We believed it 
wouldn't take a lot of effort to make a change. We had an unwarranted faith in 
institutions and didn't think things through. We weren't grounded in reality. If that 
revolutionary energy comes back now, it's going to be far more effective. 

Jensen: In Elements of Refusal you describe how, in the early part of this 
century, there was a tremendous amount of revolutionary energy in the air. In 
many ways, you say, World War I was a state-sponsored attempt to destroy that 
energy through violence. 

Zerzan: War, of course, always requires a good excuse — especially when the state's 
real enemies are its own citizenry. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand suited the 
needs of a dying Austro-Hungarian regime, but it by no means caused the war. 

The real reason for the war, I believe, was the tremendous unrest in all of Europe. In 
1913 and 1914 there had been immense strikes throughout Russia. Austria- Hungary was 
on the verge of civil war. Revolutionary movements and radical unions were on the rise 
in the United States, Germany, France, Italy, and England. Even King George V of 
England acknowledged this when he said, in the summer of 1914, just before the war, 
"The cry of civil war is on the lips of the most responsible and sober-minded of my 
people." Things had to explode, but how, and at whom would the explosion be directed? 
What better way to control the release of this energy than a long and pointless war? 

And it worked. Most unions and left-wing parties backed the war, and those that didn't 
like the Wobblies here in the U.S. the state simply destroyed. After the war, few people 
had the heart to pursue revolution, and those who did, like Mussolini and the Bolsheviks, 
were not true revolutionaries but opportunists who turned the postwar power vacuums to 
their own advantage. 

Jensen: Where do you think all this alienation today is going to go? Will it 

Zerzan: I don't know. I definitely know we aren't the happy, mindless consumers 
we're supposed to be. We may think we are, but our bodies know better. I recently 
reviewed Elaine Showalter's book Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture. 
In it, she talks about the "hysterias" of the nineties: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War 
Syndrome, recovered memory, satanic cults, and so on. Some people are offended by her 
book, because it sounds as if she's saying these problems are all in people's heads. It 
seems to me, however, that she's proposing something more profound: she's saying that 
these crisis arise with or without physical causes. You might argue, for example, that in 
the case of Gulf War Syndrome her point of view lets the government off the hook. But, 
in fact, her theory is more radical than the theory that the government poisoned 
Americans -- which it's done so many times as to be almost cliche. To say that modern 
life is so crippling, alienated, and bizarre that it spawns psychogenic disorders indicts not 
just the government but the whole system. 

Jensen: But what does it mean that our own government would poison us? It's a 
problem we've not yet addressed: that even if we do learn — or relearn — how to live 
sustainably, we may have to deal with forces out to destroy our new way of life. We all 
know what would happen if we developed sustainable communities and the dominant 
culture wanted our resources: our communities would be destroyed, and our resources 
would be stolen. 

Zerzan: That's the reality. We'd like to think that violence isn't a necessary response, 
but I'm not sure. Of course, if the upheavals are large enough, there doesn't have to be 
much violence. In May 1968, ten million French workers — astronomers, factory 
workers, you name it — went on a wildcat strike and began to occupy their workplaces. 
Student demonstrations provided the trigger, but once it started, all these grievances came 
out in a rush. The police and the army were completely helpless, because nearly the 
whole country was involved. For a time the government considered sending in NATO 
forces. Unfortunately, the uprising was brought under control, mainly by the leftists and 
unions who wanted to co-opt the revolutionary energy for their own less radical agendas. 
But for a time the people really had control of the entire country. And it was totally 

Jensen: But the uprising achieved no long-term change. 

Zerzan: No, but it did expose how really fragile the state's powers of coercion are. 
Against that kind of mass uprising, the state is helpless. We saw it happen again with the 

collapse of state capitalism in the Soviet Union and The Eastern bloc. There wasn't a lot 
of violence. It all just fell apart. I'm not saying the collapse led to any sort of radical 
shift, just pointing out that there have been bloodless upheavals in history — even in our 
own time. 

Jensen: How does one respond sanely and effectively when there is violence? 
How do you make peace with the fact that, in order to end coercion, you may have 
to coerce the coercers? 

Zerzan: That is a tough one. When Christopher Columbus arrived on these shores, 
the peaceful indigenous people greeted him with open arms. The smart thing to have 
done, I suppose, would have been to cut his throat. I don't think many people would 
argue with that, or if they would, they probably have not experienced violence to their 
own person, family, or community. But the question arises: among these peaceful 
people, where would the idea to use violence have come from? It was not their way. 

Perhaps we must be what we must overcome. German philosopher Theodore Adorno 
talks about overcoming alienation with alienation. How does that work? I don't know, 
but I think about it. I've thought a lot about how I can best serve — and I realize that I'm 
privileged with a greater number of options than many — but for right now I'm 
comfortable with cultural critique. For me, words are a better weapon than a gun. 

Jensen: Obviously, I've made the same choice. But still, every morning when I 
awake, I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam, because it's not a lack of 
words that's killing salmon here in the Northwest, but the presence of dams. We kill by 
inaction as surely as by action. 

Zerzan: That reminds me of a quote by Exene Cervenka, the singer in the punk-rock 
band X. She said, "I've killed way more people than [Unabomber Ted] Kaczynski, 
because I've been paying a lot of taxes in the last fifteen years, and he hasn't." It was a 
reminder that we're all implicated. 

I spoke on a lot of these topics in a recent talk I gave at the University of Oregon. 
Near the end I said, "I know that a call for overturning of the system sounds ridiculous, 
but the only thing I can think of that's even more ridiculous is just to let the system keep 
on going." 

Jensen: How do we know that the alienation we see all around us will lead to 
breakdown and rejuvenation? 

Zerzan: It's a question of how reversible the damage is. Sometimes in history, when 
the physical world intrudes to knock us off balance, a situation is reversed in a moment. 
There's a lovely true story that gives me tremendous hope: The dogs in Pavlov's 
laboratory were famously conditioned to respond to certain stimuli. They were also fully 
trained and domesticated. But when there was flood in the basement where they lived, 
they forgot all of their training in the blink of an eye. We should be able to do at least as 

Abstract Expressionism: Painting as Vision and Critique 

Also known as Heroic Abstraction, the New York School, Gesture Painting, and Action 
Painting, Abstract Expressionism was modernism's last, great assault on the dominant 
culture, the finale for painting as opposition or breakthrough. 

Abstraction and expressive power had hitherto been considered mutually exclusive, but 
by the end of 1947 a few artists had abandoned all traces of figural representation, and a 
definite, if widely varying tendency emerged. This paradoxical combination of elements 
found potent resolution in works as diverse as the allover "drip" canvases of Jackson 
Pollock, the black gestures of Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell, and the extremely flat, 
open color-field paintings of Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and especially Barnett 
Newman. All "so revolutionary," according to critic Irving Sandier (1978), "that all links 
to the past seemed severed." 

In die late 1940s American art was dominated by a mediocre, academic style, which only 
occasionally went so far as to incorporate suitably tamed aspects of no longer current 
European styles. Abstract Expressionism was very definitely not about comfortable 
evocations of beauty or harmony, and the radical break it represented was very distasteful 
to many. The more traditional painter Ethel Schwabacher, in her Hungry for Light 
memoir (1993) recalls the antipathy she felt to Pollock's "uneasiness" and "demolition 
quality"; characterizing his efforts as "storm voltage in the wake of which comes wild 

I find, particularly in his huge, signature-style paintings, a volcanic energy in Pollock that 
seeks to blow away this sham life, that points toward a Utopian renewal. People have 
been known to weep before the shimmering color rectangles of Rothko at his best. It is 
clear that the AE painters went all-out, united somehow in a common search for an 
absolute. As Frank O'Hara (1959) observed about them, "In the state of spiritual clarity 
there are no secrets. The effort to achieve such a state is monumental and agonizing." 

By 1950 or so, aided by sensationalist stories in Life magazine and elsewhere, awareness 
of this New York School moved from the art world to the general public. Not 
surprisingly, the conventional image was that of young, probably talentless know- 
nothings engaged in tantrums with oil paints. In fact, the arrival of abstract expressionism 
was the culmination of long, arduous evolution. A fair number of these painters were 
born within the two or three years prior to 1905 and had been painting for decades, 
mastering various styles and working through stages of formal development. It was at the 
peak of their powers and maturity that a number of artists, rather independently, achieved 
the AE breakthrough. When asked by a reporter how long it had taken him to paint a 
large work, Rothko replied (1961), "I am 57 years old and it took me all that time to paint 
this picture." 

Of course, a conformist media virtually guaranteed that the public response would be 
largely one of shock and anger. Probably the only surprise for the painters in question 
was the intensity of the hostility, and its duration. And how many could have been ready 

for an art that refused all fixed systems, ideologies, and pigeonholes — anything that 
might deny expressive possibilities? David and Cecile Shapiro (1990) noted that the new 
current was "programmatically divorced from anything in the entire history of art East or 

The AE attitude or orientation was captured, in its Utopian aspect, in this line by critic 
Harold Rosenberg (1948): "The modern painter is not inspired by anything visible, but 
only by something he hasn't seen yet." In the estimation of Kim Levin (1986), "During 
the 1950s, New York artists produced some of the most difficult — and violent — painting 
in the history of art. ..." 

And yet this American vanguard painting made New York the foremost source of 
aesthetic ideas and energies in the world, definitively surpassing Paris in this regard. 
Perhaps more importantly, there was an aspect of popular resonance — despite the 
orchestrated vilification — with Abstract Expressionist intransigence and non- 
conformism. In an era of mass-produced being and thinking, at least some fraction of 
society was inspired by the Action Painters. 

Europe, by the way, had its own versions of the new painting. The work of the Cobra 
Group of 1948-1950, so named for its locations in Copenhagen, Brussels, and 
Amsterdam, was similar in many respects to what the intrepid Americans were up to. 
Equally dissatisfied with lifeless abstraction and depthless Socialist Realism, the Cobras, 
albeit briefly, were blazing new paths. Likewise, the Tachist movement in France had ties 
to New York and a defiant spirit of innovation and profound challenge; to quote Tachist 
painter Georges Mathieu (1958), "The question is posed: it does more than put the basis 
of Western civilization at stake ..." 

In the U.S. 1950 saw production beginning in the areas of hydrogen bombs and Miltown 
tranquilizers, as Cold War repression and consumerist emptiness began to define post- 
World War II society. In this depersonalized age the Abstract Expressionists put forth 
their desperate assertions in favor of spontaneity, freedom, and discovery of self and 
context. It was their romantic anti-capitalist hope, complete with weaknesses and 
contradictions, that the values embodied in their art could supersede the artistic and 
transform society. Behind the energy of the immediate impulse was a rigorous way of life 
demanding total dedication. Pollock summed it up best, simply, when he said, "Painting 
is my whole life." Hard to imagine a starker contrast to the cowardly cynicism of today's 
postmodern art-world cadaver. 

For a radical art whose purpose was to venture into the unknown, to attempt painting as 
the yet indefinable, key components were risk, passion and adventure. For such intensity 
of purpose against such great odds, only extremists need apply. Little wonder that even 
before 1950 Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, and David Smith, leading AE sculptor, had 
already suffered serious depression or nervous collapses. Arshile Gorky had hanged 
himself in 1948; Pollock, following years of torturous alcoholism, killed himself in a 
drunken car crash in 1956; Franz Kline drank himself to death in 1962; Smith died in a 
car crash in 1965, and Rothko slashed his arms and died in his studio in 1970. In fact, 

alcoholism, if not madness, haunted most of the twenty or so most visible New York 
painters of this movement. April Kingsley (1992) judged that "Not since the Renaissance 
has there been a group of artists whose real lives have been so fascinating." Fascinating 
may be too gentle a word. 

Malcolm Lowry once said, "The real cause of alcoholism is the complete baffling sterility 
of existence as sold to you." The Abstract Expressionists were acutely aware of that 
sterility and believed that art should reveal and challenge the barrenness and oppression 
of modern capitalist society. Sam Francis (1959) rendered this with a poetic precision: 
"What we want is to make something that fills utterly the sight and can't be used to make 
life only bearable." 

A large number of the Action painters had radical credentials. Pollock, Newman, Rothko, 
Robert Motherwell, and Ad Reinhardt, among others, made persistently anti-nationalist 
and anti-capitalist statements. David and Cecile Shapiro (1977) offered this formulation: 
their politics might best be described as "anarchist or nihilist, both antipodes of 
authoritarianism, in its drive to jettison rules, tradition, order, and values." Clearly, there 
was no accommodation with the prevailing political and social ethos. Newman, Rothko, 
and Adolph Gottlieb were, in fact, life-long anarchists; once when asked about his, 
Rothko answered, "What else?" 

Cubism and surrealism were influences in the development of the painters who became 
the New York School, but fundamentals of the two major twentieth century orientations 
were rejected for characteristically AE reasons. At base, the new painters emphasized (in 
addition to expressiveness) flatness and literalness. As early as 1943, in a group New 
York Times statement, they declared, "We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion 
and reveal the truth." More specifically, they condemned surrealism, still reigning in 
modern art at the time of the statement, for its very conservative representationalism. 

Abstract Expressionism, despite its abstraction, upheld concreteness. Action paintings do 
not "stand for" anything outside themselves, and in the autonomy of the artistic act imply 
an autonomy in the world. The struggle to overcome mediation and non-transparency 
aesthetically looks past the goal of personal wholeness to that of the social order. Many 
of these "Irascibles" (a Life magazine term) were attempting, by the late 1940s, "to 
eliminate all traces of existing symbol systems." Frank O'Hara (1959) understood their 
aim as "a oneness which has no need for the mediation of metaphor or symbol." 

The action in the picture became its own representation, and paintings tried to convey 
their full meaning through direct sensation. Clifford Still, Rothko, Newman and others 
used color to evoke the sublime directly. A related method involved an unprecedented 
use of black as a color, for its lack of ambiguity and potential expressive force; black and 
white paintings were often used to try new approaches, in stark, non-chromatic gambles. 

Although certainly not new to art, the use of the primitive was a powerful element in 
much Action painting, as suggested by "Art has been in decadence since the caveman," a 
sentiment from Miro. These painters were interested in a spirit of communion with the 

primitive, heeding the call of David Smith, sculptor and radical, for a "return to origins, 
before purities were befouled by words." But in drawing from this source, one sees a 
contradiction: the primitive represented not only optimism and community, but also a 
state of brutality, helplessness, and fear of nature. We now understand this ambivalence 
to have been unnecessary, given the distinctly positive view that recent decades of 
scholarship have disclosed of life in pre-civilization. 

Art is predicated on its formal strategies and development. Even an art that sought to 
embody impulses which are not primarily aesthetic finds its success or failure, at bottom, 
in formal terms. Robert Motherwell gave his reason for this in a 1944 talk, the estimation 
that "so long as modern society is dominated by the love of property — and it will be, so 
long as property is the only source of freedom — the artist has no alternative to 

One obvious aspect of this, as already noted in passing, is the rejection of representation. 
The Abstract Expressionists had come to the conclusion that through thousands of years 
of exposure, representational images were worn out. As Rothko (1958) disclosed, "a time 
came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it." 

To come more to the heart of the formal means involved, it is plausible to assert not only 
that these works were new in the history of Western civilization, but that they are the 
final evolution of painting. There is an extreme, reductivist purification underlying them, 
prompting some to refer to the "abolitionist" nature of Abstract Expressionism. 

In their quest for critical revelation and the visionary, the Action painters, in their varying 
styles, went after everything that was dispensable and rejected it. Harold Rosenberg 
(1972) referred to their conceptions of painting as "a kind of marathon of deletion." They 
were going for broke, throwing out virtually every last convention in art to get to the 
irreducible essentials. 

In a reference to Cezanne's famous still lifes that were so influential for modern art, 
Rosenberg had noted earlier (1959), "the apples weren't swept off the table in order to 
make room for perfect relations of space and color. They had to go so that nothing would 
get in the way of the act of painting." This was the grand gesture of those who fought 
desperately for a coherence possessed of supra-aesthetic potency, in the face of an 
increasingly alienated and divided society. Small wonder that few could follow the 
extremist paths of such aesthetic dialecticians. 

The turbulent lives of the Abstract Expressionists constitute one aspect of this 
demanding, ground-breaking project, and the limitations of the aesthetic itself, a subject 
beyond the scope of this offering, is another, more general question. It becomes hard to 
resist concluding, let me concede, that the heroic AE enterprise was destined to be a dead 
end, inspiring to some, but unrealizable. Max Horkheimer (1959) was referring to the 
overreachings of Abstract Expressionism when he judged, sadly, "As it becomes coherent 
in itself, it also becomes mute, and that it requires commentary is proof of that fact." 

In discarding the non-essentials to get at new heights of expressive coherence, it was 
Jackson Pollock who went furthest. He realized how little was left to work with and yet 
persisted in trying to force art to make good on its never-delivered promise of revelation, 
to show us truth that would truly make a difference. 

Pollock's huge "drip" or poured canvases — their very size a rebuff to market 
considerations — are unequalled in their immediacy, wildness and epic qualities. 
Continually more inventive and radical, his project, his life, was that of a total 
engagement of the spirit in the expression of meaning. 

The poured technique, arrived at in 1947, was a daring formal solution of dripping or 
even throwing paint in long, looping rhythms. Michael Fried (1965) felt that Pollock had 
"managed to free line from its function of representing objects in the world, but also from 
its task of describing or bounding shapes and figures. . . ." He advanced past symbols, 
shapes and forms altogether, employing line as trajectory rather than as a form-defining 
device. Not surprisingly, this breakthrough was seen by not a few as the destruction of 

Allan Kaprow in 1958, two years after Pollocks drunken end, referred to him as "the 
embodiment of our ambition for absolute liberation and a secretly cherished wish to 
overturn old tables of crockery and flat champagne." A reminiscence of his work by Paul 
Jenkins (1985) declared, "He awakens us like a flash of light, and his presence was 
something that had gone through fire and existed in fire. . . ." 

There is often a violent, terrible energy to Pollock's paintings which at times have a raw, 
unfinished feel to them. In fact, he tried precisely to move beyond beauty, beyond the 
usual pictorial ambition. The "well-made" picture, the notion of painting as some kind of 
haute cuisine was just what he and the other Abstract Expressionists were out to 
demolish. There was an undeniable sense of freedom to all this, an exhilaration. At times 
it was "so delicious," recalled Willem DeKooning. "Like children we broke all the 

And this iconoclastic nihilism, again, was the bane of many critics. Hilton Kramer, for 
instance, never tired of railing against Pollocks "anarchic" impulses, his "anarchic" 
sensibilities, the "vehemence of his anarchic energy, " etc. (e.g. 1957). Even some of his 
fellow Action painters could be shocked by the violence of Pollock's approach. Hans 
Hoffman, older and a significant influence on the New York School in general, visited 
Pollock's studio and was appalled by the disorder he found there. Picking up a dried-out 
brush that had stuck to a palette, he said, "With this you could kill a man." Jackson's 
reply was "That's the point." 

An earlier encounter with Hoffmann, as recounted by Lee Krasner, Pollock's wife and a 
considerable painter in her own right, is also telling: 

"I brought Hoffmann up to meet Pollock for the first time and Hoffmann said, after 
looking at his work, 'You do not work from nature.' Pollock's answer was, 'I am 

This seemingly bombastic statement had less to do, I would say, with megalomania than 
with Pollock's rejection of the usual expedient of symbolizing nature. Pollock was very 
much interested in nature all the way along, and the rhythms of nature are readily 
recognized in many of his pictures. 

The movement, energy, and surprise of Pollock's major (1947-50) works tend to make 
the eye of the viewer move constantly and thus apprehend the image as a whole. A 
universal dimension is suggested, in fact, an evocation of the totality precisely because 
nothing is represented. Primal vitality, dionysiac energy testify to how much he longed 
"to escape from American ordinariness, its lure of banality." Pollock displayed elements 
of an "apocalyptic mentality, of a social contract with a future world and, simultaneously, 
a falling one," in the words of Donald Kuspit (1979, 1980). His Utopian vision is also 
about origins, about what has disappeared from the world, and is thus "partly a project of 
retrieval" (TJ. Clark 1990). The promise of the past as well as of the future — "memories 
arrested in space," his phrase — is what he tried to convey, and what I think is told best by 
the sense of unlimited freedom of his poured paintings. Pollock offers, as David Anfan 
(1990) phrased it very well, "a foretaste of the reign of wonder." 

As compared to Pollock's line and energy, Mark Rothko utilized fields of color and 
repose; aside from their commitment to total abstraction, the two are stylistic opposites. 
But Rothko, in another approach to shared values, made almost as large a contribution to 
pictorial heresy as his slightly younger colleague. Early on, around 1945, he made some 
of his strongest, defining statements for emerging Abstract Expressionism and in time 
reached such levels of the sublime in painting as to go, according to Dore Ashton (1958), 
"almost beyond the reach of the word." 

Two or three centrally aligned rectangles, floating in layers of vibrant light and color, 
were a characteristic picture, by which he gave materiality to his redemptive vision. A 
secret, inner harmony underlies these works, a pulsating presence, what he termed "the 
impact of the unequivocal." He aimed at a distilled content that, like that of other Action 
painters, had jettisoned such components as recognizable subject matter, spatial illusion, 
complex formal relationships, even titles. 

It was out of fear of being assimilated by society that Rothko purged his art of any 
precise images. As he wrote in 1947, "The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized 
in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds 
every aspect of our environment." The "look" of the everyday only gets in the way of 
seeing what is really there and what really could be there. 

Like his friends Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still, Rothko was something of an 
absolutist, morally and politically. He was also an anarchist during his entire adult life, 
and the anti-authoritarian foundation of his outlook was always present. This comes 

through even in a remark about the size of paintings, in favor of big canvases: "However 
you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn't something you command." 

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, he listened to IWW orators and once heard Emma 
Goldman speak. His ill-fated Seagram murals experience in the late 1950s is a colorful 
testimony to an anarchist, anti-commodity, and anti-art world perspective. Rothko 
accepted a commission to paint several murals for the restaurant in the New York 
headquarters of the Seagram liquor corporation, but later changed his mind on the subject 
of adorning space mainly frequented by a ruling class clientele. He had hoped "to paint 
something that would ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever ate in that room." 
Reconsidering the soundness of this tactic, as Breslin (1993) tells it, he returned the 
commission in disgust, raging that "Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those 
kinds of prices will never look at a painting of mine." 

Rothko's paintings often evoke strongly emotional responses, including great sadness. It 
was a mark of his courage to struggle so long and so well with his glowing color fields, 
against the sterility of society and encroaching depression and despair. An almost 
obsessional darkness began to creep into his vision by 1957, and his late works, largely 
grey negativities, move toward a dimming invisibility. 

Barnett Newman was one of the main whipping boys of Abstract Expressionism. 

When in 1950 he first showed his remarkably simple color-field paintings, generally 
consisting of a huge expanse of one color divided by a couple of thin vertical stripes, 
even his outlaw colleagues rejected them. Many consider his works to be the most radical 
of all Abstract Expressionist art. 

A Newman picture overwhelms the eye with one main color, providing the immediate 
sensation of an all-pervading forcefulness. Newman's thrust was the primal unity, 
wholeness, harmony between humanity and nature, and the potential greatness of the 
human spirit. 

He strove for the highest in discourse and momentous meaning, and while the means 
were drastically simplified, content was amplified. In a July 1950 letter from Still, one of 
his few supporters at the time, the "magnitude" and "intensity" of Newman's color were 
linked to a total rejection of contemporary culture and those behind it. In response to the 
question of what his art could mean to the world, he pointed to a canvas from his 
inaugural 1950 exhibition and said, "You know, that painting, if read correctly, means the 
end of the capitalist system!" 

Newman was a Utopian primitivist who advocated a return to the first, communal forms 
of human society. He upheld a vision of life based on voluntary cooperation, free of 
antagonism and repression. Never sympathetic to the Communist Party, from the 1920s 
he was an active anarchist, and taught himself Yiddish in order to read the only anarchist 
newspaper then available in New York. In 1933 Newman ran for mayor of New York on 

a platform of free housing, public galleries and orchestra spaces, the closing of streets to 
private automobiles, and playgrounds for adults. 

Looking back at Abstract Expressionism (1966), he claimed that "we actually began, so 
to speak, from scratch, as if painting were not only dead but had never existed." But 
Newman was definitely influenced, as were 19 century figures like Pisarro and Seurat, 
by Kropotkin's ideas of artistic autonomy and mutualist spontaneity. Indeed, in the late 
1960s, not long before he died, he persuaded a publisher who wanted to bring out a book 
of Newman's own collected writings to instead publish Kropotkin's Memoirs of a 
Revolutionist, for which he wrote a preface. 

Barnett Newman's friend and fellow anarchist Clyfford Still drew less on Kropotkin's 
critique of society, than from Bakunin's demand for its violent abolition. In fact, the 
uncompromising vehemence and intensity of his approach almost make Newman look 
like a genial middle-of-the-roader. 

For starters, no other artist had ever loathed the art world as a system with such an 
undying passion. Critics were "venomous scribblers," galleries were "brothels," the 
Museum of Modern Art in particular was a "gas chamber." He rejected all constraints and 
demanded that art work assume the most momentous of empancipatory responsibilities. 

His style was that of rough and craggy fields of color, usually suggesting turbulence and 
cataclysm. These generally large, raw pictures refused comfortable confinement within 
edges. He wrote in 1963 that "to be stopped by a frame's edge was intolerable; a 
Euclidean prison had to be annihilated, its authoritarian implications repudiated. ..." 

His all-or-nothing outlook placed enormous faith in the inherent autonomy of engage" art 
as an instrument of freedom. Blake and Nietzsche were influences; even more so he 
emphasized the reassertion of human beginnings to show the way toward clearing away 
the weight of accumulated imprisonment. Donald Kuspit (1977) pondered "this grand 
primitivist negation, this grand return to origins" in the service of a radical freedom, and 
understood its underlying affirmation. 

Still rejected what he called the "totalitarian hegemony" of art's history. The "security" 
that comes from tradition, he wrote in 1952, is "an illusion, banal, and without courage." 
The alienated, technological essence of the Bauhaus school, "I rejected out of hand as an 
abdication to systems of power and mass control with their underpinnings of political and 
economic reactionary theses. ..." His critical acumen and acerbic style are, I think, worth 
quoting further in this regard: 

The manifestoes and gestures of the Cubists, the Fauves, the Dadaists, Surrealists, 
Futurists or Expressionists were only evidence that the Black Mass was but a pathetic 
homage to that which it often presumed to mock. And the Bauhaus herded them briskly 
into a cool, universal Buchenwald. All the devices were at hand, and all the devices had 
failed to emancipate. 

For the severe Still, painting was really a life and death affair on both personal and social 
levels; its potential was boundless. He reflected in 1963 on his role in the 1940s: "I had 
made it clear that a single stroke of paint, backed by work and a mind that understood its 
potency and implications, could restore to man the freedom lost in twenty centuries of 
apologies and devices for subjugation." As he had said in 1952, "We are now committed 
to an unqualified act, not illustrating outworn myths or contemporary alibis." 

If Abstract Expressionism had an organizer, it was the articulate internationalist, Robert 
Motherwell. Somewhat like Barnett Newman, he facilitated and promoted the movement 
and its basic orientation. He saw at its heart "a rejection of nearly everything that seems 
to interest nearly everyone, a protest against what goes on and the art that supports it" 
(1950), and was most impressed by "the radiance and subtlety with which this attitude of 
protest is expressed." 

He found the whole point of existence, in fact, to be opposing the established order, but 
his work, while strongly radiant, does not strike one as subtle. For 30 years he painted his 
Elegies to the Spanish Republic: thick, black and brooding forms, rough-edged, dripping 
and full of emotional intensity. He executed over 140 pictures in this long series of a 
similar black and white style, possessing inescapable physical presence and urgency. As 
with so many other Action painters, he dared to drastically simplify the number of 
elements and thereby achieved a greatly magnified expressive power. 

Motherwell wrote in 1948 of a projected Abstract Expressionist goal of "ridding us of the 
glory of conquerors and politicos," of "defending [human] values with intelligence and 
ingenuity against the property-loving world." More specifically, he saw the new school as 
deeply critical of standardization and instrumentalism, later sadly concluding (1977) that 
"Western man, in choosing centuries ago to exploit nature rather than marry her, has 
doomed himself. . . with an industrial technology" out of his control. "One can only 
guess," he had written in 1959, "if there were something more deeply and humanly 
inspiring, at what we might be, what all mankind might be capable of." 

Franz Kline, Willem deKooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolph Gottlieb, Phillip Guston, 
so many important others, too many for even brief commentary here. The spirit of 
inspired antagonism of that whole heroic and diverse group was perhaps best captured in 
1949 by William Baziotes: "when the demagogues of art call on you to make the social 
art, the intelligible art, the good art — spit on them and go back to your dreams." 

After a brief period of critical success and just as some of its partisans were finally able 
to sell a few paintings and wonder if they were selling out, by the late '50s, Abstract 
Expressionism was on the wane. The Italian critic Marco Valsecchi wrote in 1950 of its 
basis in "the necessity of surviving as individuals without being crushed by the 
conformism of industrialized life," and that AE paintings give the sense of "witnessing a 
shipwreck and the fight for survival." Very similar was Gottlieb's 1963 statement, 
"Everything seemed hopeless and we had nothing to lose, so that in a sense we were like 
people condemned to life imprisonment who make a dash for freedom." 

Though based on resistance and refusal, their desperate initiative was widely 
misunderstood and steadily assimilated into the prevailing cultural, political, and social 
ethos. Nonetheless, Action painting was not only the evident end of formal development 
in art, it was the highest point, in its sphere, of the whole modernist project. And because 
of what David Craven (1990) recognized as its "unequivocal opposition to scientism, 
technologism, and wage labour alienation," Abstract Expressionism superseded the non- 
radical Enlightenment belief in progress usually found near the heart of modernism. 

By the late '50s, Pop Art, which represents a sweeping transition from modernism to 
postmodernism, was in full swing. Martha Rosier (1981) perceived the postmodern 
renunciation of purity and celebration of pluralism as "a pretend triumph of egalitarian 
tolerance." At base, and seen most clearly in Pop Art, it simply reflects the enormous 
consequences of mounting post-war commodity production and consumption. Shallow, 
banal, indiscriminate, Pop Art exalts the standardized and makes no demand upon the 
viewer except his or her money. It has exactly nothing of the inner necessity or 
passionately sought authenticity of its immediate artistic predecessor. The triumph of Pop 
Art over Abstract Expressionism is inseparable from "the feeling of bankruptcy that 
permeates our art and culture," that Kim Levin referred to in 1986. 

True to the postmodern canon, Pop Art renounces any grasp of the whole, and in so doing 
ends up with just what the system gives it. As Octavio Paz saw in 1973, Pop Art is not a 
figure in a vision, but a mannequin in a department store. The commercial images of 
Warhol and the rest are unmistakably tied to the oppressive set-up whose understanding it 
rules out. It is their objective of totality that gave Action painting, according to T.J. Clark 
(1990), both its fierceness and its sensuousness. While the likes of Pop Art come and go 
as trivial consumption, the valiant, life-affirming effort of Abstract Expressionism will 
endure and inspire. 


The Age of Nihilism 

Technological mediation and separation continue on their emptying ascendancy, embodying 
so well capital's impoverishing penetration of every level of life on this planet. But there are 
signs that an era of unchecked cynicism, engendered by this rampant advance of techno- 
capital, is finally being challenged. The challengers, moreover, are quickly deepening their 
understanding of how fundamental the challenge must be if it is to succeed. 

With this in mind, the following comments on nihilism may well be less apropos than they 
would have been even a year or two ago. For the focus of this essay is passive nihilism, rather 
than the probing, critical variety, which is the active nihilism now emerging as a force to be 
reckoned with. Nonetheless, the question of how and why an enfeebling ethos of 
meaninglessness and indifference came to predominate may still be of some interest. 

In Fathers and Sons, Turgenev described the nihilist as one "who looks at everything 
critically . . . who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may 
be revered." But during the same period, Dostoevsky portrayed modern, passive nihilism in 
Notes from Underground. Its protagonist was merely disgruntled, and lacked the passion and 
conviction necessary to hold convention to the flame of critique. 

During the following century, it appears, the sense that nothing matters became widespread. 
One current among others, quite obviously, but a growing one. Nothing counts more than 
anything else, so nothing really counts. Nietzsche had said that nihilism "stands at the door" 
of modern civilization, and that door opened wider as the important sources of meaning and 
value steadily revealed themselves as inconsequential and irrelevant, unequal to the rigors of 
modern life. 

Heidegger found in nihilism "the fundamental movement of the history of the West," and 
what was the bane of the nineteenth century became, by the 1990s, a banality. Nihilism, in 
the current postmodern clime, is simply the matter-of-fact state of mind of our period — so 
widespread today is the attitude that little or nothing is compelling, authentic, or makes a 
difference. Distinctions of value or meaning and the value or meaning of distinctions are less 
and less persuasive. There is a cultural exhaustion in the movement through decadence into 
nihilism. According to John Gray, nihilism constitutes modernity's "only truly universal 
inheritance to humankind." 

That inheritance has accelerated, it seems, since the failure of the movement of the 1960s, 
when belief in continuous Progress had reached its peak. As Utopian oases dried up, a desert 
of inertia and pointlessness spread. By the '80s, with nothing to look for and nowhere to go, 
youth were tagged as slackers, Generation X, etc. In the summer of 1990, the New York 
Times called kids the generation "that couldn't care less." 

With young people looking ahead to a lifetime of strain and empty consumerism, it should 
surprise no one that teens' suicide rate has tripled in the past 30 years. Or that network 
television now offers what amount to "snuff programs for the jaded and bored, as the 
population in general experiences its life-world as more and more of a vacuum in every way. 
A melancholy escapism flowers in this Dead Zone, this Nowhere. 

Development is a given; this cancer of a system would soon collapse without its steady 
onslaught. It continues its onrush into the hypermodern vista of high-tech unreality. 
Nietzsche saw nihilism as a consequence of the erosion of the Christian world view. But this 
is a superficial judgment, in many ways confusing effect with cause. 

A deeper causative factor is the march of technology, in the direction of the complete 
industrialization of society. From the present apex of cultural homogenization and 
standardized life, this is easier to see than it was for Nietzsche more than a century ago. The 
hollowing out of die substance and texture of daily existence is being completed, a process 
intimately related to the near impossibility of experiencing the world without technological 
mediation. The overall destruction of experience speaks to the deprivation at the heart of both 
technology and nihilism. 

With this absence of unmediated personal experience at the heart of technological progress, 
skyrocketing levels of stress and depression cannot be surprising. Technology mediates 
between individuals and nature, ultimately abolishing both. With the triumph of technology, 
autonomy regresses and negates itself. The promises have all been lies. One is the promise of 
connection, so mercilessly (though inadvertently) mocked in a recent TV commercial: "I've 
got gigabytes. I've got megabytes. I'm voice-mailed. I'm e-mailed. I surf the Net. I'm on the 
Web. I am Cyber-Man. So how come I feel so out of touch?" 

A set-up whose essence is efficiency is already fundamentally nihilist. Technical rules are 
rapidly supplanting ethical norms by making them irrelevant. What is more efficient or less 
efficient holds sway, not some moral consideration, even as the systemic goals of techno- 
capital are shaped by the evolution of its technology. Production, based on mastery and 
control, becomes more visibly a process of humanity devouring itself. 

When powerlessness prevails, a generalized sense of paranoia is not an illogical symptom. 
Similarly, a current and telling form of cynicism is technological fatalism ("There's nothing 
we can do about it"), further exposing the tendency of cynicism to shade into conformity. As 
Horkheimer and Adorno observed, "technological rationale is the rationale of domination 

Understanding and responsibility succumb to an ever-increasing fragmentation, a division of 
labor that is always unequal and alienating. The only wholeness resides in the fundamental 
system that turns all else into parts. As the moral self recedes, it becomes harder to grasp the 
relationship of these parts to one another and to see what they are part of. Domination and 
nihilism's crisis of meaning are inseparably entwined. 

For Heidegger, technology constitutes the final phase of nihilism. Under its sign all talk of 
freedom, happiness, emancipation becomes a mockery. In fact, technology itself becomes the 
ideological basis of society, having destroyed the possibility of other, overt forms of 
justification. Engagement or belief are hardly necessary for technology's effective rule. In 
this way the nagging problem of declining participation in the system can be mitigated, or 

Technology is the embodiment of the totalizing system of capital, and media is an 
indispensable, ever more defining bridge between technology and the commodity system. If 

the high-tech information explosion cancels all meaning in a meaningless noise, the mass- 
entertainment industrial complex pumps out increasingly desperate diversions to a society of 
relentless consumerism. 

"Infotainment" and Mcjournalism are the latest pop culture products of nihilism. Why bother 
with truth if nothing can be done about reality anyway? And yet media, like technology, is 
always promising solutions to problems it has created, or worsened. One example among 
many is the significant rise in teen smoking in the 1990s despite an enormous media 
campaign aimed at reducing teen smoking. Strangely enough, beefing up the media does not 
combat alienated behaviors. 

In the United States, and soon to spread elsewhere as not less than a function of development, 
we witness the recent transition to an amusement society of commodified spectacles and 
simulations. The eclipse of non-mediated reality feeds still greater urges to escape an emptied 
everyday life. Massified culture works in favor of distraction, conformity, and culturally 
enforced stupidity. The consequent lack of authenticity produces a mass turn-off, not 
unrelated to the decline of literacy. 

The collapse of the distinction between reality and simulation in the world of representation 
can be seen as the ultimate failure of the symbolic. Art, music, and other forms of symbolic 
culture are losing their power to pacify and console us. Simulation technologies are just the 
most recent steps away from lived life, toward represented life. Their failure to satisfy means 
that the system must turn, increasingly, to containment and control. 

To protect the desolate society an alternative to that society is safely set up, by means of 
image technologies. As the social dimensions of human life disappear along with meaning 
and value, a consumer society in cyberspace becomes the next stage of human existence. We 
are moving steadily toward the goal of complete illusion — virtual life in a virtual reality. 

Under the Juggernaut, the subject is not supposed to have any sense of social causality, 
structure, coherence, or motive. Virtual Reality's merely surface experience is exactly 
mirrored by postmodernism' s fascination with surfaces. As the culture that can just barely 
still be called one, postmodernism celebrates its own depthlessness, and is thus nihilism's 
essential accomplice. It comes to pervade society when too many have given up hope that 
they can plumb the depth and roots of the whole. Postmodern perspectives are grounded in 
the incapacity to specify why change might be desirable or how it might come about. 

Postmodernism is fundamentally the collapse and refusal of the chance to understand the 
totality. This indeed is the postmodern boast, mirroring the fragmentation of life instead of 
challenging it. Its "politics" is that of pragmatism, the tired liberalism that accommodates to 
the debased norm. 

Deconstruction, for example, treats every moral statement as an endlessly manipulable 
fragment that possesses neither meaning nor intrinsic worth. Rem Koolhaus formulates the 
overall PM subjugation as follows: "According to Derrida we cannot be Whole, according to 
Baudrillard we cannot be real, according to Virilio we cannot be There." 

Postmodernism, it might be argued, expresses fewer illusions, but the basic ones remain 
unchallenged. Its exhausted, ironic cynicism is prostrate before the nihilist ascendancy. What 
could be more passive than critique-less postmodernism double talk — an ideology of 

Falsely laying claim to the protection of the particular as against the universal, 
postmodernism presents no defense whatsoever against the most universalizing force of all, 
technology. In the guise of particularity it incarnates nothing less than the realization of 
technology's universalizing Midas touch. 

Postmodernism emphasizes plurality, accessibility, absence of boundaries, endless 
possibility. Just as consumerist society does. And just as speciously. Where culturally a glut 
of meaningless information and incoherent fragments hold sway, the glut of ersatz 
commodities provides a perfect economic parallel. The liberty that remains to us is 
essentially the freedom to choose among brands A, B, and C, and the KFC in Tiananmen 
Square expresses domination as surely as the suppression of human rights protesters there in 

"Systematic consumer segmentation and micro-marketing" is the dominant model of 
individualism today in the nihilist ethos of listless yet restless buyers. In fact, in an 
overwhelmingly commodified existence, consumption becomes the number one form of 
entertainment. Little wonder that academic journals now seriously discuss not only the 
McDonaldization of society but also its Disneyization, while life is largely defined in terms 
of consumer styles. The cognitive and moral focus of life becomes that of consumer 
behavior — including, it should be noted, voting and recycling. 

Nihilism has effectively leached out the substance and texture from the life-world in the 
painful progression by which capital and technology have reduced and debased everything in 
their way. There is no exit from the closed system except by the elimination of that system. 

Civilization begins by myth and ends in radical doubt, to paraphrase E.M. Cioran. This may 
remind us that cultural radicalism, which has become such a convention, feeds the dominant 
system rather than undermining it. Culture, born of alienation, needs alienation to go on. We 
must challenge the idea of symbolic culture as well as the reality of high-tech barbarism. 

Nihilism is not a one-way street with no return, rather a route that has revealed the ensemble 
of domination for what it is. There are now very visible signs of the possibility of breaking its 
hold, redeeming its long, dark night. 


On the Transition 
Postscript to Future Primitive 

by John Zerzan 

"Yeah, the critique is impressive and everything, but just how might we actually get from 
this ghastly world to some healed, whole existence?" 

I think we should not doubt that such a journey is possible, nor that the explosion 
necessary to begin it may be approaching. 

The thought of the dominant culture has, of course, always told us that alienated life is 
inescapable. In fact, culture or civilization itself expresses this essential dogma: the 
civilizing process, as Freud noted, is the forcible trading of a free, natural life for one of 
unceasing repression. 

Today culture is in a dispirited, used-up state wherever one looks. More important than 
the entropy afflicting the logic of culture, however, is what seems to be the active, if 
inchoate resistance to it. This is the ray of hope that disturbs the otherwise all-too- 
depressing race we witness to determine whether total alienation or the destruction of the 
biomass will happen first. 

People are being stretched and beaten on the rack of everyday emptiness, and the spell of 
civilization is fading. Lasch referred to a near-universal rage abroad in society, just under 
the surface. It is growing and its symptoms are legion, amounting to a refusal to leave this 
earth unsatisfied. 

Adorno asked, "What would happiness be that was not measured by the immeasurable 
grief at what is?" Certainly, the condition of life has become nightmarish enough to 
justify such a question, and perhaps also to suggest that something started to go deeply 
wrong a very long time back. At least it ought to be demonstrating, moving on toward 
specifics, that the means of reproducing the prevailing Death Ship (e.g. its technology) 
cannot be used to fashion a liberated world. 

Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler wondered, "What is 'common' about the common life? What 
if some genius were to do with 'common life' what Einstein did with 'matter'? Finding its 
energetics, uncovering its radiance." Of course, we must all be that 'Einstein', which is 
exactly what will unleash a creative energy sufficient to utterly refashion the conditions 
of human existence. Ten thousand years of captivity and darkness, to paraphrase 
Vaneigem, will not withstand ten days of full-out revolution, which will include the 
simultaneous reconstruction of our inner selves. Who doesn't hate modern life? Can what 
conditioning that remains survive such an explosion of life, one that ruthlessly removes 
the sources of such conditioning? 

We are obviously being held hostage by capital and its technology, made to feel 
dependent, even helpless, by the sheer weight of it all, the massive inertia of centuries of 
alienated categories, patterns, values. What could be dispensed with immediately? 
Borders, governments, hierarchy.... What else? How fast could more deep-seated forms of 
authority and separation be dissolved, such as that of division of labor? I assert, and not, I 
hope, in the spirit of wishing to derive blueprints from abstract principle, that I can see no 
ultimate freedom or wholeness without the dissolution of the inherent power of 
specialists of every kind. 

Many say that millions would die if the present techno-global fealty to work and the 
commodity were scrapped. But this overlooks many potentialities. For example, consider 
the vast numbers of people who would be freed from manipulative, parasitic, destructive 
pursuits for those of creativity, health, and liberty. At present, in fact, very few contribute 
in any way to satisfying authentic needs. 

Transporting food thousands of miles, not an atypical pursuit today, is an instance of 
pointless activity, as is producing countless tons of herbicide and pesticide poisons. The 
picture of humanity starving if a transformation were attempted may be brought into 
perspective by reference to a few other agricultural specifics, of a more positive nature. It 
is perfectly feasible, generally speaking, that we grow our own food. There are simple 
approaches, involving no division of labor, to large yields in small spaces. 

Agriculture itself must be overcome, as domestication, and because it removes more 
organic matter from the soil than it puts back. Permaculture is a technique that seems to 
attempt an agriculture that develops or reproduces itself and thus tends toward nature and 
away from domestication. It is one example of promising interim ways to survive while 
moving away from civilization. Cultivation within the cities is another aspect of practical 
transition, and a further step toward superseding domestication would be a more or less 
random propagation of plants, a la Johnny Appleseed. 

Regarding urban life, any steps toward autonomy and self-help should be realized, 
beginning now, so that cities may be all the more quickly abandoned later. Created out of 
capital's need to centralize control of property transactions, religion, and political 
domination, cities remain as extended life-destroying monuments to the same basic needs 
of capital. Something on the order of what we know now as museums might be a good 
idea so that post-upheaval generations could know how grotesque our species' existence 
became. Moveable celebration sites may be the nearest configuration to cities that 
disalienated life will express. 

Along with the movement out of cities, paralleling it, one might likely see a movement 
from colder climes to warmer ones. The heating of living space in northern areas 
constitutes an absurd effort of energy, resources, and time. When humans become once 
again intimate with the earth, healthier and more robust, these zones would probably be 
peopled again, in altogether different ways. 

As for population itself, its growth is no more a natural or neutral phenomenon than its 
technology. When life is fatally out of balance, the urge to reproduce appears as 
compensation for impoverishment, as with the non-civilized gatherer-hunters surviving 
today, population levels would be relatively quite low. 

Enrico Guidoni pointed out that architectural structures necessarily reveal a great deal 
about their social context. Similarly, the isolation and sterility of shelter in class society is 
hardly accidental, and deserves to be scrapped in toto. Rudofsky's Architecture Without 
Architects deals with some examples of shelter produced not by specialists, but by 
spontaneous and evolving communal activity. Imagine the inviting richness of dwellings, 
each unique not mass produced, and a part of a serene mutuality that one might expect to 
emerge from the collapse of boundaries and artificial scarcities, material and emotional. 

Probably 'health' in a new world will be a matter even less recognizable than the question 
of shelter The dehumanized industrial 'medicine' of today is totally complicitous with the 
overall processes of society which rob us of life and vitality. Of countless examples of the 
criminality of the present, direct profiting from human misery must rank near the top. 
Alternative healing practices are already challenging the dominant mode, but the only 
real solution is the abolition of a setup that by its very nature spawns an incredible range 
of physical and psychic immiseration. From Reich to Mailer, for example, cancer is 
recognized as the growth of a general madness blocked and denied. Before civilization 
disease was generally nonexistent. How could it have been otherwise? Where else do 
degenerative and infectious diseases, emotional maladies, and all the rest issue if not 
from work, toxicity, cities, estrangement, fear, unfulfilled lives - the whole canvas of 
damaged, alienated reality? Destroying the sources will eradicate the suffering. Minor 
exigencies would be treated by herbs and the like, not to mention a diet of pure, non- 
processed food. 

It seems evident that industrialization and the factories could not be gotten rid of 
instantly, but equally clear that their liquidation must be pursued with all the vigor behind 
the rush of break-out. Such enslavement of people and nature must disappear forever, so 
that words like production and economy will have no meaning. A graffito from the rising 
in France in '68 was simply 'Quick!' Those partisans apparently realized the need to move 
rapidly forward all the way, with no temporizing or compromise with the old world. Half 
a revolution would only preserve domination and cement its hold over us. 

A qualitatively different life would entail abolishing exchange, in every form, in favor of 
the gift and the spirit of play. Instead of the coercion of work— and how much of the 
present could continue without precisely that coercion? —an existence without constraints 
is an immediate, central objective. Unfettered pleasure, creative endeavor along the lines 
of Fourier: according to the passions of the individual and in a context of complete 

What would we keep? "Labor-saving devices?" Unless they involve no division of labor 
(e.g. a lever or incline), this concept is a fiction; behind the "saving" is hidden the 
congealed drudgery of many and the despoliation of the natural world. As the Parisian 

group Interrogations put it: "Today's riches are not human riches; they are riches for 
capitalism which correspond to a need to sell and stupefy. The products we manufacture, 
distribute, and administer are the material expressions of our alienation." 

Every kind of fear and doubt is cultivated against the prospect or possibility of 
transforming life, including the moment of its beginning. "Wouldn't revolt mean 
mayhem, hoarding, survivalist violence, etc.?" But popular uprisings seem to embody 
strong feelings of joy, unity, and generosity. Considering the most recent U.S. examples, 
the urban insurrections of the '60s, New York City 77, and Los Angeles '92 — one is 
struck overall by the spontaneous sharing, the sharp drop in interracial violence and 
violence against women, and even a sense of festival. 

Our biggest obstacle lies in forgetting the primacy of the negative. Hesitation, peaceful 
coexistence — this deficiency of desire will prove fatal if allowed to be ascendant. The 
truly humanitarian and pacific impulse is that which is committed to relentlessly 
destroying the malignant dynamic known as civilization, including its roots. Time is a 
stunting, confining imposition of culture, naming is a domination, like counting, an 
aspect of the distancing of language. In the horrible extremity of today we can see the 
need to return all the way to the earth, to the multi-sensual intimacy of nature that 
obtained before symbolization made living a reified, separated caricature of itself. 
Enchantment might be savored even more brightly this time, for knowing what our 
ancestors didn't realize must be avoided. 

Tearing up the concrete could begin immediately, as my late friend Bob Brubaker once 
counseled. Literally, under the pavement, it's the beach! 


A pervasive sense of loss and unease envelops us, a cultural sadness that can justly be 
compared to the individual who suffers a personal bereavement. 

A hyper-technologized late capitalism is steadily effacing the living texture of existence, 
as the world's biggest die-off in 50 million years proceeds apace: 50,000 plant and animal 
species disappear each year (World Wildlife Fund, 1996). 

Our grieving takes the form of postmodern exhaustion, with its wasting diet of an 
anxious, ever-shifting relativism, and that attachment to surface that fears connecting 
with the fact of staggering loss. The fatal emptiness of ironized consumerism is marked 
by a loss of energy, difficulty in concentrating, feelings of apathy, social withdrawal; 
precisely those enumerated in the psychological literature of mourning. 

The falsity of postmodernism consists in its denial of loss, the refusal to mourn. Devoid 
of hope or vision for the future, the reigning Zeitgeist also cuts off, very explicitly, an 
understanding of what has happened and why. There is a ban on thinking about origins, 
which is companion to an insistence on the superficial, the fleeting, the ungrounded. 

Parallels between individual grief and a desolate, grieving common sphere are often 
striking. Consider the following from therapist Kenneth Doka (1989): "Disenfranchised 
grief can be defined as the grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not 
or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported." Denial on 
an individual level provides an inescapable metaphor for denial at large; personal denial, 
so often thoroughly understandable, introduces the question of refusal to come to grips 
with the crisis occurring at every level. 

Ushering in the millennium are voices whose trademark is opposition to narrative itself, 
escape from any kind of closure. The modernist project at least made room for the 
apocalyptic; now we are expected to hover forever in a world of surfaces and simulation 
that ensure the "erasure" of the real world and the dispersal of both the self and the social. 
Baudrillard is of course emblematic of the "end of the end," based on his prefigured 
"extermination of meaning." 

We may turn again to the psychological literature for apt description. Deutsch (1937) 
examined the absence of expressions of grief that occur following some bereavements 
and considered this a defensive attempt of the ego to preserve itself in the face of 
overwhelming anxiety. Fenichel (1945) observed that grief is at first experienced only in 
very small doses; if it were released full-strength, the subject would feel overwhelming 
despair. Similarly, Grimspoon (1964) noted that "people cannot risk being overwhelmed 
by the anxiety which might accompany a full cognitive and affective grasp of the present 
world situation and its implications for the future." 

With these counsels and cautions in mind, it is nonetheless obvious that loss must be 
faced. All the more so in the realm of social existence, where in distinction to, say, the 
death of a loved one, a crisis of monumental proportions might be turned toward a 
transformative solution, if no longer denied. Repression, most clearly and presently 
practised via postmodern fragmentation and superficiality, does not extinguish the 
problem. "The repressed," according to Bollas (1995) "signifies the preserved: hidden 
away in the organized tensions of the unconscious, wishes and their memories are 
ceaselessly struggling to find some way into gratification in the present -- desire refutes 

Grief is the thwarting and deadening of desire and very much resembles depression; in 
fact, many depressions are precipitated by losses (Klerman, 1981). Both grief and 
depression may have anger at their root; consider, for example, the cultural association of 
black with grief and mourning and with anger, as in "black rage." 

Traditionally, grief has been seen as giving rise to cancer. A contemporary variation on 
this thesis is Norman Mailer's notion that cancer is the unhealthiness of a deranged 
society, turned inward, bridging the personal and public spheres. Again, a likely 
connection among grief, depression, and anger -- and testimony, I think, to massive 
repression. Signs abound concerning weakening immune defenses; along with increasing 
material toxins, there seems to be a rising level of grief and its concomitants. When 
meaning and desire are too painful, too unpromising to admit or pursue, the accumulating 
results only add to the catastrophe now unfolding. 

To look at narcissism, today's bellwether profile of character, is to see suffering as an 
ensemble of more and more closely related aspects. Lasch (1979) wrote of such 
characteristic traits of the narcissistic personality as an inability to feel, protective 
shallowness, increased repressed hostility, and a sense of unreality and emptiness. Thus, 
narcissism too could be subsumed under the heading of grief, and the larger suggestion 
arises with perhaps greater force: there is something profoundly wrong, something at the 
heart of all this sorrow, however much it is commonly labeled under various separate 

In a 1917 exploration, "Mourning and Melancholia," a puzzled Freud asked why the 
memory of "each single one of the memories and hopes" that is connected to the lost 
loved one "should be so extraordinarily painful." But tears of grief, it is said, are at base 
tears for oneself. The intense sorrow at a personal loss, tragic and difficult as it most 
certainly is, may be in some way also a vulnerability to sorrow over a more general, 
trans-species loss. 

Walter Benjamin wrote his "Theses on History" a few months before his premature death 
in 1940 at a sealed frontier that prevented escape from the Nazis. Breaking the constraints 
of marxism and literariness, Benjamin achieved a high point of critical thinking. He saw 
that civilization, from its origin, is that storm evacuating Eden, saw that progress is an 
single, ongoing catastrophe. 

Alienation and anguish were once largely, if not entirely, unknown. Today the rate of 
serious depression, for example, doubles roughly every ten years in the developed nations 
(Wright, 1995). 

As Peter Homans (1984) put it very ably, "Mourning does not destroy the past — it 
reopens relations with it and with the communities of the past." Authentic grieving poses 
the opportunity to understand what has been lost and why, also to demand the recovery of 
an innocent state of being, wherein needless loss is banished. 

In Memoriam 

Memory is a basic human faculty that, despite its vagaries and problematics, we pretty 
much take for granted. Memory is so much always at hand, so basic to our ability to 
grasp reality, that it might seem impossible to accurately understand. Stephen Braude 
(1992), for instance, concluded that it is "plausible to regard memory as a phenomenon 
that is literally unanalysable." 

But what of the "anthropology" of memory? In a formulation that Adorno and 
Horkheimer (1947) perhaps did not take far enough, "every reification is a forgetting," 
and reification, the conversion of the living and autonomous into things, into objects, is 
the foundation of civilization. Domestication is its pronounced realization. How much, 
then, has memory been defined or deformed by domestication, by a world in which the 
very structure of experience has been essentially altered? And if reification is a 
forgetting, it follows that the demystifi-cation and dissolution of reification must involve 
a remembering. According to phenomenologist Edward Casey (1987), "We have 
forgotten what memory is, and can mean; and we make matters worse by repressing the 
fact of our own oblivion." 

Memory is socially and culturally constructed. Every model of memory is thus culturally 
specific, and, as Melion and Kuchler (1991) point out, the pursuit of memory promotes 
and maintains cultural formation itself. Politico-cultural practices, in dialectical interplay, 
influence the shape of memory. Arthur G. Miller (1991), for example, studied the ways in 
which "pre-Hispanic calendrics and territorial management strategies fashioned memory 
as a process of selective remembering and forgetting, governing patterns of labor and 

Russell provided a rather famous philosophical argument to the effect that, for all we 
know, the world might have sprung into existence five minutes ago complete with our 
"memories" of childhood, etc. We unconsciously strive to not be a part of memory that 
alienation has forged, knowing that Russell's questioning does nothing to lessen the force 
of that memory. History has been cynically referred to as the science of forgetting, 
perhaps because what it remembers is inadequate to an understanding of our sadness, our 
incompleteness. As the poet Carnevali (1967) said, "memories weep or mourn, all 
memories do." 

The origins of our condition and its long, painful passage must be re-collected if memory 
is to claim its own memory. In The Phenomenology of Mind Hegel claimed that memory 
"forms the passage from representation to thought." But since representation and thought 
are themselves non-neutral, this formulation does little to uncover the roots of what has 
been so deeply obscured. 

Three hundred years ago, Robert Fludd saw memory as reflected in the organization of 
the external world. He saw its contours represented by those of some Renaissance 

technologies, especially theaters. Today acquisition, storage, and retrieval of memory 
data is the dominant model, obviously based on memory as a computer. Now we 
experience an increasingly programmed and impoverished collective experience, one of 
whose primary effects is an imposed cultural memory that legitimates dominated life. 
And the very defining of memory is inseparable from the texture and organization of 
social existence. Its embeddedness in the prevailing state of division of labor is a key 
aspect of its variability and limitations. 

What can we say of memory in its current condition, and its connections to other cultural 
dimensions? In terms of time it presents features that may seem contrary to our 
unexamined associations. For example, as Brain (1966) observed, our sensation of time is 
not furnished by memory. Having memories "is not," in this regard, "enough, for having 
a memory is a present state." If time is the enemy of life lived in the here-and-now, 
memory cannot be seen as its ally. Like dreams, memory takes place outside of time. Or 
as Friedman (1990) understated it, "time is relatively insignificant information in the 
natural functioning of memory." 

But in a life-world so divided and alienated, we seem to exist in time itself. All of our 
assumptions and preconceptions proceed from that basis, with the shape and force of time 
a pretty exact measure of the division and alienation of that existence. Very much to the 
point is how closely our notions of memory are tied to linear conceptions of time, as 
Frances Yates brought out in The Art of Memory (1966). 

Language also has a deep impact on memory. With language comes the turn toward 
mastery, as in naming. Spengler (1922) noted that memory is "the capacity of storing for 
the understanding by means of the name, the named." The trajectory of domination is 
etched in memory as it is everywhere else. Arthur J. Miller (1991) wrote of ancient 
sacred knowledge rendered into text: "When memory became scripture, the past was cast 
as linear narrative, delimiting the future within the scope of previous events." 

Mnemosyne, or memory, was celebrated by the Greeks as the mother of the muses, but 
the conversion of myth into written language extends a debilitation begun by language 
itself. Kuberski (1992) goes so far as to say, "this is the last stop of memory, when it 
becomes a text." 

Language takes on a life of its own, ending up in our current postmodern condition in 
which, it is often averred, there is nothing left but language. Words reduce and deform 
the experiences they symbolize; there is no language that would represent memory 
without such modification. Memories are resistant to being translated into words. 
Referring to the clinical setting, Donald Spence (1982) observed a "perennial conflict 
facing the patient between what is true and what is describable." 

Almost three hundred years ago, Vico counted imagination as one of memory's three 
aspects. Gaston Bachelard (1964) provides contemporary reflection on the relationship of 
memory and imagination, a connection whose vitality should not be devalued. 
Meanwhile, Bau-drillard repeatedly assures us that we can no longer imagine a different 

world. To remember and to see a better future are related faculties, their atrophy a mutual 

Memory is not a matter of objects brought to consciousness but is a part of the dynamics 
of consciousness (Rosenfield 1992). Wittgenstein rejected the Lockean view of memory 
as a storehouse; Proust virtually equated memory and perception in his notion of 
"involuntary" memory. Of course, it can also be a form of conditioning, depending upon 
the social environment and method (or lack thereof). 

For Freud, memory occupied the entire psyche. But, he observed, remembrance is made 
difficult due to repression of dangerous childhood wishes and feelings. The Freudian 
thesis posits early sexuality as the seat of all such charged emotional memories, though it 
can be read in a wider sense. Enid Balint (1993) described a repression of memories more 
basic than those of a sexual nature, involving reactions against the nature of a young 
child's reality. Experiencing an incoherent world, the infant fails to establish an 
acceptable view of it. "If the baby cannot build up such a world, it may be because he 
cannot bear the dissimilarities he perceives (or the way he is perceived), so his 
perceptions are disavowed. . . .these disavowals may lead to complete loss of memory of 
the whole world in which unacceptable perceptions were made." The implications 
regarding memory and critique are obvious. 

The original fragmentation and separation of humanity by the reifying force of 
domestication has produced the idea that the psyche consists of different parts 
functioning independently of each other and thus legitimately considered independently. 
Neurology has been unable to determine where and how memories exist in our brains; in 
fact, unlike computers, they seem to have "no space at all allotted solely to memory" 
(Herbert 1993). 

The misguided effort of science to "pin down" memory — or consciousness in general — 
recalls Freud's rather contrary position in this area. One of his most eccentric and 
generally ignored beliefs (1915) was that the individual's memory reproduces an 
inherited recollection of the entire human species. Jim Culbertson (1963, 1976, 1982) has 
argued that consciousness, including memory, permeates all of nature and is present even 
in its smallest parts. In an eccentricity that seems to parallel Freud's, Culbertson claims 
that remembrance is not a representation of that which is irretrievably past, but a partial 
re-experiencing of the event itself. Recall involves a "clear-loop link" to the actual 
moment in spacetime where the event is still eternally present. Fellow physicist Nick 
Herbert (1993) presents a similar, if slightly more conventional, view of mind as 
pervasive and deeply embedded in nature. 

But again, the meaning of memory is best fathomed in context, as another site of struggle 
with domination. The ruling order seeks to enlist memory as an ally in its never-ceasing 
will to legitimation. It must serve as a mechanism of subjection, a means of sustaining 
hegemony. For our part, we have striven, since the advent of civilization, to resist this 
colonization, this shaping of memory's influence against us. Inherently contestatory, 

memory must battle, for its integrity, the deodorizing effects of nostalgia and the 
numbing of its vitality by routine. 

Early on in the modern era Edmund Burke recognized the danger to the established order 
represented by a clear recollection of changes in society. Against such subversive 
memories he found custom to be an obscuring factor, a potent contribution to authority. 

From the beginning of the nineteenth century, roughly speaking, an industrializing West 
decisively broke up old patterns of life and struggled for complete control. Industrial 
capitalism depends upon mastery of both public and private realms for its stability, and 
its proponents rather quickly discovered the "inadequacy of available memory 
mechanisms" (Terdiman 1993) for the totalizing needs of capital. The basic dynamics of 
modern capital, however, provided the core answer to this challenge. 

Exchange is as old as division of labor. Goods move and become different as they 
circulate; memories are displaced and altered over time via increasingly complex 
exchange relationships. Proceeding inseparably, embedded in each other, technology and 
class society produce commodities that are more and more reified and autonomous. 
Borrowing from Marx and Lukacs, Richard Terdiman' s attention to the "memory crisis" 
of the 19 th century (1993) included reference to what he called "the frozen and forgotten 
history of the object." 

Once again, origins are of central importance in understanding our present extremity. The 
development of the commodity mirrors the trajectory of alienation itself, its beginnings 
always more clouded. Bordieu (1977) called this suppression a "genesis amnesia." As 
with time, technology, and other basics, the memory of the production of a world of 
commodities is veiled from its consumers. The enigma of the commodity is thus a 
memory disorder, one that becomes suppressed, less troubling as the myth of progress 
grows by consumption. 

Refusing the deflection of consciousness that progress is constantly issuing, Herbert 
Marcuse looked rather in the opposite direction. He was struck by the question of how 
past human suffering can be redeemed. "To forget," he reasoned (1955), is "the mental 
faculty which sustains submissiveness and renunciation... Against this surrender to time, 
the restoration of remembrance to its rights, as a vehicle of liberation, is one of the 
noblest tasks of thought." It was in this vein that the Hungarian writer Gyorgy Konrad 
referred (1992) to Eastern European dissidents as almost alone upholding remembrance; 
the others must eliminate what they failed to do: "Most people have an interest in losing 

Heidegger stressed the point that the past is irrecoverably absent, while his student, 
Marcuse, saw that it is memory's ability to reverse the flow of time that makes it a 
Utopian faculty. The repressed "remains unaltered by the passage of time" (Freud 1933) 
as personally painful or traumatic episodes are sealed from one's awareness. But Marcuse 
was alert to a similar repression of pleasurable activities enacted and enforced by the 
needs of a pervasively confining and immiserating society. "Forgetting past suffering and 

past joy alleviates life under a repressive reality principle. In contrast, remembrance spurs 
the drive for the conquest of suffering and the permanence of joy." (1978) 

Today the Utopian hopes of Marcuse are definitely out of fashion. Our postmodern era is 
one of cynicism and even despair, embodying, as Frederic Jameson put it (1984), the 
"cultural logic of late capitalism." Human yearnings are eclipsed by the cold strata of 
images and hypertechnology; surface sensation, gadget titillation, jaded disinterest: 
increasingly a landscape of cyborgs programmed by amnesia. Jameson's "Postmodernism 
and Consumer Society" (1982) concluded that "Our entire contemporary social system 
has little by little begun to lose its capacity to retain its own past." 

Jean-Francois Lyotard is a central postmodern thinker; characteristically, there is no 
component of remembrance in his approach. The overall picture of defeat, in fact, finds 
Lyotard denouncing memory for its use-value to the system: like everything else, capital 
pulls memory into its orbit and appropriates its functions (1973, 1989). Memory is 
explicitly condemned as a moment of theory, moreover, theory being a foolish struggle 
against forgetfulness, as Christa Burger aptly noted (1991). 

Memory has not been plumbed deeply enough as indispensable ally to theory. Adorno 
warned against a theory of origins and even Marcuse failed to reach back far enough. 
Meanwhile, the all but enveloping postmodern Zeitgeist is equally opposed to 
remembering as to critical social theory. 

The unthinking acceptance, indeed, "virtual worship of technology" (Lash and Friedman, 
1991) is an important PM trait that is closely related to its deficiencies regarding memory 
and theory. When technology is treated as a given (or worse, as a favorable "natural" 
development), we find that human, historical memory becomes supplanted by 
technology's memory. An inevitable, unconscious contingency that is far more trusted 
and relied upon than the kind it overrides, and with an undeniable ideological force. 

If the hidden or unexamined — the forgotten — exerts a domination over us, the point of 
recollecting the past is to understand the force of its implicit truth-claim upon the present. 
The cumulative weight of the past "weighs like a nightmare" on the minds of the living, 
wrote Marx. To flee the past, so much of it — yes — but to know how and why means, in 
large part, memory. Marx's contemporary, Melville, expressed a dissent from the 
amnesia that was already gathering a century and a half ago, in the wreck of the Pequod 
in Moby Dick. Ahab's final order to the crew, to "sink all coffins and all hearses to one 
common pool!", stands for an evacuation of collective memory. But Ishmael, as he clings 
to the coffin inscribed with "hieroglyphic marks" of exterminated races, disobeys. "And I 
only am escaped alone to tell thee." 

Until modern times the word memory extended across the vast range of the Latin memor, 
"mindful," metis, "the mind," and all the words that display the Indo-germanic roots men- 
, mon-, mn-, words related to thinking, intending, and being conscious or mindful in any 
way. The sense of memory was so broad as to encompass both death and love, for 

example. "How paltry the word memory has become since then!", in the judgment of 

A technological context reduces memory to information retrieval, with a tendency toward 
enlarged colonization of what is whole, sensual, lived. Virtual Reality is offered to an 
impoverished spirit; memory implants may not be far off. Nostalgia, the other side of the 
coin and mirror image of progress, appeals to the feeling that the past offered pleasures 
no longer attainable. As Proust put it, the only paradises are those we have lost. 

If we can see that art, and culture itself, are symptoms of human fragmentation, why is it 
impermissible to consider re-establishing the unity which has been lost? Referring to the 
ideal of living wholly in the present moment, futurologist John Holmdahl once playfully 
proposed an "Amnesia Foundation" toward that end. But to get there, we need not the 
suppression of memory, but its realization and supersession. Instrumental reason must be 
jettisoned along the way; perhaps even dialectical thinking, still drawing on memory, can 
one day be let go of, with new or unrecognizable senses and abilities coming into play in 
lieu of so many layers of atrophy and deformation. 


Why I Hate Star Trek 

The reigning cultural mythos, including its pseudo- oppositional currents, is agreed on one 
thing: Star Trek is good for you. The vast popularity of this impossibly weak, artificial, 
repressive series (actually there were three series, over the past 25 years or so) is a puzzling 
and sad symptom of an absence of both vitality and reflection. Of the many stupid but 
popular aspects of culture, few have the range of fans, such a range of possibilities for 
extending a little the wave-lengths of control. One could cite the translation of the original 
Star Trek series into no less than 49 languages, the seemingly insatiable appetite for even the 
most obscure Trek trivia on the part of a large subculture, and the burgeoning quantity of 
books, movies, conventions, etc. that constitute a sizeable industry. But Star Trek got my 
attention in a more personal way. A friend had a breakdown and discovered, on his locked 
psychiatric ward, that Star Trek was prescribed viewing. At about the same time I became 
aware that it is apparently also mandatory in the home of neighbors of mine, a 
hippie/"alternative lifestyle" family that is otherwise pretty anti-TV. 

Even quite a few "anarchists" are, of their own volition, very big Trek fans. Which brings 
to mind one of its most repulsive features, its predication on a strict, martial hierarchy. 
("Isn't that right, Number One?") The order- giving/order-taking military framework is 
always present and constitutes the model of social reality; for the crew is never seen in a 
different context. The evolution of the program during its three incarnations is also worth 
noting, for subtle shifts in this authoritarian model. 

Captain Kirk, the original supreme leader, was a bit of a cowboy, even a maverick in 
some very slight ways. But Captain Riker, in series #2, "The Next Generation," is very 
much the corporate boss, totally inseparable from his role as absolute authority. And in a 
significant sense, even the dynamics or movement of the whole operation comes to an 
end over time. "Deep Space Nine," the third and final series, dispensed with the 
Enterprise (so very aptly named for a deeply entrepreneurially-spirited orientation) and 
takes place on a stationary space platform. No more trek; corresponding perfectly to a 
world where, since the collapse of bureaucratic state capitalism beginning in the late 
1980s, modern capital now dominates everything, everywhere. What Star Trek conveys 
about technology is probably its most insidious contribution to domination. Not only is a 
structure of hierarchical orders a constant; so is the high-tech, anti-nature foundation of 
the drama as a whole. Always at home in a sterile container in which they represent 
society, the crew could not be more cut off from the natural world. In fact, as the highest 
development in the mastery and manipulation of nature, Star Trek is really saying that 
nature no longer exists. 

The android/computer Data, successor to Spock, is the central figure in an episode that 
illustrates perfectly the elevation of the machine. Data continually "experiences" 
disturbances that are initially thought to be a sort of electrical malfunctioning in "his" 
circuitry. Slowly the idea is introduced that "he" is actually having dreams. Much warm 
and fuzzy emotion envelopes this supposedly marvellous development, this triumph of 
consciousness. Never mind that the message is more hideous than uplifting. What we are 

seeing, by imputing human feelings to technology, is a celebration of the very framework 
that is debasing inner nature as it destroys outer nature. People behaving more and more 
like machines while machines become increasingly "human" is a horrible development 
not limited to Star Trek, but certainly applauded and thereby advanced by it. 

Considered as an exercise in acting and characterization, Star Trek is chillingly true to the 
reversal that the episode just cited typifies. The glaring thing about it as drama is how 
lifeless and plastic the characters are. In fact, they are so machine-like and one- 
dimensional as to be virtually interchangeable. The Irish actor Colm Meany ("Deep 
Space Nine") has turned in vibrantly alive movie performances; in Star Trek he seemed 
to be in a coma, devoid of life, Irish or otherwise. Maybe it is soothing for some viewers 
to see so little going on the part of non-individuals. And this robot-like quality is, in turn, 
related to the decidedly anti-sensual spirit of Trek reality. Intensification of technology as 
a way of life is part of it, as is a sort of moral condemnation of sex. This, too, is a 
constant, seen in the very texture of the program. The uniforms are one example; they are 
never dispensed with, and provide a cadet-like image, the stuff of puerile fantasy. This 
parallels, on a slightly different level, the current fascination in American Society with 
angels, sexless and benignly powerful. Overall, Star Trek is as sanitized and boring as 
Barney or Walt Disney. 

An episode of "The Next Generation" featuring Captain Picard and the widow of his best 
friend exemplifies the anti-sexual theme. While dodging aliens, in a long "action" 
sequence possessed of less tension than that of a weak "B" western, they learn that 
they've always been attracted to each other. Neither had expressed such feelings, 
however, due to her married state, but now they encounter each other unencumbered. It is 
made perfectly clear that there is no reason whatsoever for them to hold back, yet the tale 
ends with them bidding a wistful, unconsummated farewell forever to the other. I cannot 
imagine a script giving a more unqualified no to love: even when there is not a reason in 
the galaxy to repress oneself, do it anyway. Breath-taking! 

Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek's creator, in case there's anyone on earth who doesn't 
know it) was a police science/pre-law major in his college days. After service in World 
War II, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. He next began writing scripts for 
such television series as Highway Patrol and Dragnet. Roddenberry' s background as a 
liberal cop seems perfect as guiding light for the TV phenomenon that, it could almost be 
said, invented Political Correctness. Women, gays, the disabled, minorities are treated 
sympathetically on Star Trek, a not unusual corporate television gesture. This minimum 
requirement should not blind us to the slightly less obvious problems of content. Sadly, 
Ursula LeGuin, considered by many a Utopian/anarchist writer, seemed to see little else 
besides Star Trek's PC rating in her "Appointment with the Enterprise: an Appreciation," 
written for the May 14, 1994 TV Guide. She gushed over the late series in the classic 
superficiality of the liberal, managing to see a marvelous morality play, and ignoring its 
worship of authority and a monstrous techno-future. 

No more Star Trek! 

PBS, Power, And Postmodernism 

The Public Broadcasting System produces "programming" toward a more manageable 
society. In fact, it is the network rather expressly for managers, and what it airs can best 
be understood by keeping in mind this service to the managing class. The exact ratio of 
corporate to government funding of PBS is inconsequential to its basic nature and 

Typically, it launders the image of oil giants and other corporate uglies via their tax- 
deductible underwriting of high culture, such as opera. Even more basically, it provides 
the illusion of an "independent" source of information while enforcing the dominant 
constraints as to what constitutes the acceptable or reputable in ideas and information. 

PBS is "innovative" in one real sense: as a consistent promoter of the latest in high-tech 
impoverishment. Those who understand the importance of the computerization of life — 
both Clinton and Gingrich, for instance — realize the vital PBS contribution in this area. 
Its completely neutered "environmentalism" never hints at questioning the hierarchical 
organization of social existence which daily generates the global eco-crisis. This "green" 
veneer serves, in practice, as perfect accompaniment to the real goal, namely, the highest 
"creative" productivity of capital. PBS projects a superior code of diversity, tolerance and 
fairness, under which the essentials of modern, bereft, commodified life continue 
unaffected. This pretense of a calm, confident, rational social world is in stark contrast to 
the actual horrors and dislocations, psychic and public, of a stricken society. Stately 
British dramas like "Masterpiece Theater" further this soothing overall tone of ruling 
class control. Small wonder that PBS sponsors are so often management services, 
computer firms, corporate lawyers and others whose explicit function is the running of 
society in important capacities. 

All this is fairly transparent and hardly new. More recent is what seems to be a growing 
connection between PBS and the prevailing culture of postmodernism. A self-promotion 
spot highlights this nascent marriage between the managerial hegemony PBS aspires to 
and the reigning cultural hegemony of postmodernism. The text of the promo 
encompasses virtually every important facet of the new PM creed, and it is easy to see 
how it serves explicit control aims. PBS celebrates itself — and the divided society it 
serves — in the same oath of allegiance: 

Americas Storyteller 

Welcome to a place that is always just 

beginning, that rouses itself day to day 

and year to year to admire what it's 

made, starting with nothing, then 

rushes to invent itself all over again. 

Ordinary people, doing extraordinary 

things; knowing what goes on now goes 

on to shape tomorrow. 

Welcome to the land that is never 

exactly what you think it is and will 

never stay that way for long. 

There are a million stories in the 

streets of the cities we never finish 

building. We intend to tell them all. 

The postmodern "death of the subject" announces the end of the individual, dissolved in 
language. After the likes of Heidegger and Lacan, it is language itself that does the 
talking, which parallels the real: capital has swallowed up the human actor. And so our 
text begins; it is "the place" which is the subject, not its inhabitants. 

This place is "always just beginning." A remarkably bald way of expressing the 
postmodern refusal of history and of origins. History, after all, is just so many arbitrary 
fictions; pick one — or, more characteristically, don't even bother — they are equally 
valid/invalid. As for origins, well, that's a bigger fool's errand yet. There are no origins; 
things have always been this way. Everything before this (media) moment is erased. This 
place is "always just beginning." 

And that is so admirable! This place "rouses itself — in order "to admire what it's made." 
This is the narcissism of a putrescent society in love with itself, able to focus so 
admiringly with the invaluable aid of know-nothing postmodernism. What it's made of is 
never made clear. To enumerate the specifics of this empty place, in all their terrifying 
emptiness, might tend to ground the flight of this paean of admiration. 

"Starting with nothing" — another reason to admire the achievements of our "place." 
Here, too, is the embrace of an almost total ignorance. Self-chosen ignorance at that, 
which is so important to the fact of "postmodern culture" as oxymoron. "Starting with 
nothing." Never mind the unsuspecting peoples who had to be systematically sacrificed 
to enable the admirable wonders of today. Never mind the wondrous part of this planet 
that existed, naturally and freely, somehow prior to the glories erected by this "place." 
"Starting with nothing." No blood on anyone's hands. 

Skipping over the innocuous second stanza, "Welcome to the land that is never exactly 
what you think it is." Here is another cardinal postmodern tenet: the pointlessness of 
analysis. Meaning is an illusion, or, as the PM deconstructionists say, "all interpretation 
is misinterpretation." In practice, the corollary is, let the experts run things; their rule and 
technology are inevitable and unfathomable, anyway. The Information Society, the dream 
of managers and their PBS, "is never exactly what you think it is." You are incapable, by 
definition, of understanding your subjugation to power. So sit back, tube out, and we'll 
perfect it. 

This land also "will never stay that way [the way you mistakenly thought it was] for 
long." More classic postmodernism: ever-shifting signification, undecidability. Of course 
it is fine that the situation is both opaque and fluid: this guarantees your perpetual 
ignorance and slavery. 

"The streets of the cities we never finish building." Capital and its high-tech embodiment 
dwarf you, and never rest. This "place" goes on forever. The contribution of 
postmodernism to PBS is inestimable, as this piece of pure PM makes utterly clear. 



Noam Chomsky is probably the most well-known American anarchist, somewhat curious 
given the fact that he is a liberal-leftist politically, and downright reactionary in his 
academic specialty, linguistic theory. Chomsky is also, by all accounts, a generous, 
sincere, tireless activist — which does not, unfortunately, ensure his thinking has 
liberatory value. 

Reading through his many books and interviews, one looks in vain for the anarchist, or 
for any thorough critique. When asked point-blank, "Are governments inherently bad?" 
his reply (28 January 1988) is no. He is critical of government policies, not government 
itself, motivated by his "duty as a citizen." The constant refrain in his work is a plea for 
democracy: "real democracy," "real participation," "active involvement," and the like. 

His goal is for "a significant degree of democratization," not the replacement of political 
rule by a condition of no rule called anarchy. Hardly surprising, then, that his personal 
practice consists of reformist, issues-oriented efforts like symbolic tax resistance and 
ACLU membership. Instead of a critique of capital, its forms, dynamics, etc., Chomsky 
calls (1992) for "social control over investment. That's a social revolution." What a 
ridiculous assertion. 

His focus, almost exclusively, has been on U.S. foreign policy, a narrowness that would 
exert a conservative influence even for a radical thinker. If urging increased involvement 
in politics goes against the potentially subversive tide toward less and less involvement, 
Chomsky's emphasis on statecraft itself gravitates toward acceptance of states. And 
completely ignoring key areas (such as nature and women, to mention only two), makes 
him less relevant still. 

In terms of inter-government relations, the specifics are likewise disappointing. A 
principle interest here is the Middle East, and we see anything but an anarchist or anti- 
authoritarian analysis. He has consistently argued (in books like The Fateful Triangle, 
1983) for a two-state solution to the Palestinian question. A characteristic formulation: 
"Israel within its internationally recognized borders would be accorded the rights of any 
state in the international system, no more, no less." Such positions fit right into the 
electoral racket and all it legitimizes. Along these lines, he singled out {Voices of Dissent, 
1992) the centrist Salvadoran politician Ruben Zamora when asked who he most 

Chomsky has long complained that the present system and its lap- dog media have done 
their best, despite his many books in print, to marginalize and suppress his perspective. 
More than a little ironic, then, that he has done his best to contribute to the much greater 
marginalization of the anarchist perspective. He has figured in countless ads and 
testimonials for the likes of The Nation, In These Times, and Z Magazine, but has never 
mentioned Anarchy, Fifth Estate, or other anti-authoritarian publications. Uncritically 
championing the liberal-left media while totally ignoring our own media can hardly be an 
accident or and oversight. In fact, I exchanged a couple of letters with him in 1982 over 
this very point (copies available from me). He gave a rather pro-left, non-sequitur 

response and has gone right on keeping his public back turned against any anarchist point 
of view. 

Chomsky's newest book of interviews, Class Warfare, is promoted in the liberal-left 
media as "accessible new thinking on the Republican Revolution." It supposedly provides 
the answers to such questions as "Why, as a supporter of anarchist ideals, he is in favor of 
strengthening the federal government." The real answer, painfully obvious, is that he is 
not an anarchist at all. 

Long a professor of linguistics and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he achieved 
fame and fortune for his conceptions of the nature of language. Professor Chomsky sees 
language as a fixed, innate part of some "essential human nature" (Barsamian, 1992). 
Language develops along an intrinsically determined path, very much like a physical 
organ. In this sense, Chomsky says language "simply arose" (1988) and that we should 
study it as "we study any problem in biology" (1978). 

In other words, language, that most fundamental part of culture, has no real relationship 
with culture and is a matter of instinct-driven formation through biological specialization. 

Here, as everywhere else, Chomsky cannot even seem to imagine any problematics about 
origins of alienation or fundamental probings about what symbolic culture really is, at 
base. Language for Chomsky is a strictly natural phenomenon, quite unrelated to the 
genesis of human culture or social development. A severely backward, non-radical 
perspective, not unrelated to his unwillingness to put much else into question, outside of a 
very narrow political focus. 

The summer 1991 issue of Anarchy magazine included "A brief Interview with Noam 
Chomsky on Anarchy, Civilization, & Technology." Not surprisingly, it was a rather 
strange affair, given the professor's general antipathy to all three topics. The subject of 
anarchy he ignored altogether, consonant with his avoidance of it throughout the years. 
Responding to various questions about civilization and technology, he was obviously as 
uncomfortable as he was completely unprepared to give any informed responses. 
Dismissive of new lines of thought that critically re-examine the nature of civilization, 
Chomsky was obviously ignorant of this growing literature and its influence in the anti- 
authoritarian milieu. 

Concerning technology, he was, reluctantly, more expansive, but just as in the dark as 
with the question of civilization. His responses repeated all the discredited, unexamined 
pro-tech cliches, now less and less credible among anarchists: technology is a mere tool, 
a "quite neutral" phenomenon to be seen only in terms of specific, similarly unexamined 
uses. Chomsky actually declares that cars are fine; it's only corporate executives that are 
the problem. Likewise with robotics, as if that drops from heaven and has no grounding 
in domination of nature, division of labor, etc. In closing, he proclaimed that "the only 
thing that can possibly resolve environmental problems is advanced technology." Yes: 
more of the soul-destroying, eco- destroying malignancy that has created the current 
nightmare ! 

In the fall of 1995, Chomsky donated much of the proceeds from a well-attended speech 
on U.S. foreign policy to Portland's 223 Freedom and Mutual Aid Center, better known 
as the local anarchist infoshop. As if to honor its generous benefactor appropriately, the 
infoshop spent the money first of all on a computer system, and several months later 
financed a booklet promoting the infoshop and the ideas behind it. Among the most 
prominent quotes adorning the pamphlet is one that begins, "The task for a modern 
industrial society is to achieve what is now technically realizable." The attentive reader 
may not need me to name the author of these words [Chomsky, see below*], nor to point 
out this less than qualitatively radical influence. For those of us who see our task as 
aiding in the utter abolition of our "Modern industrial society," it is repellant in the 
extreme to find its realization abjectly celebrated. 

[* The actual quotation in the 223 pamphlet read as follows: "The task for a modern 
industrial society is to achieve what is now technically realizable, namely, a society 
which is really based on free voluntary participation of people who produce and create, 
live their lives freely within institutions they control, and with limited hierarchal 
structures, possibly none at all. --Noam Chomsky"] 

"Hakim Bey," postmodern "anarchist" 

I've been getting increasingly annoyed by the word-salad posturing of Bey and find 
"Primitives & Extropians" one of the weaker offerings yet from this postmodern liberal. I 
will confine myself to some of the stand-out dopiness from what is shot through with 
inaccuracies, evasions, pontificating, ego- stroking, and shallowness. On the level of 
content "Primitives & Extropians" is little short of absurd. He pitches his piece, most 
basically, as a comparison of two viewpoints, "two anarchist tendencies." But how even 
the most air-headed could make the extreme technofascist imperialism of extropy into an 
"anarchist" tendency is quite beyond me. In fact, it worships every high-tech 
manifestation of the total mastery of nature and the obliteration of every trace of the 
sensual, autonomous individual. To quote from one of its priests, Carnegie-Mellon' s 
Hans Moravec, " The final frontier will be urbanized, ultimately into an arena where 
every bit of activity is a meaningful computation: the inhabited portion of the universe 
will be transformed into a cyberspace ... We might then be tempted to replace some of 
our innermost mental processes with more cyberspace - appropriate programs purchased 
from Artificial Intelligence, and so, bit by bit, transform ourselves into something like 
them. Ultimately our thinking procedures could be totally liberated from any traces of our 
original body, indeed of any body." (Extropy, #10, 1993). To term something so 
viciously evil "anarchist" suggests stupidity compounded by bad faith. 

Bey's method is as appalling as his claims to truthfulness, and essentially conforms to 
textbook postmodernism. Aestheticism plus knownothingism is the pm formula; cynical 
as to the possibility of meaning, allergic to analysis, hooked on trendy wordplay, 
"Primitives & Extropians" displays these features exquisitely. 

A point of view that tries to be consistent, well- researched, tentative exploration is 
deemed absolutist, rigid, aggressive, the product of a "presumptive vanguard of the pure." 
Bey, however, is inconsistent, messy, open, impure, non- exclusive, etc. He elevates 
diversity, the multiplicity of situations, the refusal of the world to conform to simple 
formulations. What is galling is how stark and even nightmarish our situation really is, 
hip verbiage aside. Frederic Jameson put it ably in his Seeds of Time (1994): "How is it 
possible for the most standardized and uniform social reality in history by the merest 
ideological flick of the thumbnail ... to reemerge as the rich oil-smear sheen of absolute 
diversity and of the unimaginable and unclassifiable forms of human freedom?" 

Bey completely buys into the pm illusion that society is too "complex" to yield to any 
profound indictment. A further unveiling of our trendy author reveals a liberal, whose 
"utopian" future might well include, he discloses, "wrangling about 'acceptable emission 
standards' or forest preservation." Further, the "human (animal/animate) scaling of 
economy and technology — this, however untidy, I would call Utopia." How basically 
reformist! It is little wonder that Bey opens this whole mess of an article by declaring that 
"the anarcho-primitivists have backed themselves into a situation where they can never 
be satisfied without the total dissolution of the totality." A liberal like Bey has really no 
quarrel with the totality, whereas I foolishly have thought that the threshold definition of 

a radical, of one who yearns for a qualitative break with the whole deranged setup, is 
precisely dissatisfaction with the totality. 

More than half of this pathetic exercise is Bey peddling his patented Temporary 
Autonomous Zone prescription. The TAZ "seems to be the only manifestation of the 
possibility of radical conviviality," is bigger than "mere ideas," is able to "reconcile the 
wilderness and cyberspace ... in fact, has already done so." Reads to me like it is Bey who 
advances his candidacy for Absolute Rightness, not those who seek, in an anti-ideological 
and visionary spirit, to learn from our origins and identify the basics, in reality, of our 
deep imprisonment. Liberatory analysis and practice have, I would say, far better chances 
for success from clear thinking and unlimited desire than from stylistic mantras about the 
glories of inconsistency and hip- sounding, three- word solutions in capital letters. 

P.S. Thanks to John Filiss for the considerable Extropy literature he provided me. 

City Of Light 

Pigs will be pigs. You've got to wonder about anyone who'd choose to be one. Just as you 
have to wonder how many people chose/choose not to know that Rodney King beatings 
happen every day. 

But the 1992 insurrection in L.A. was not fundamentally about the latest high-profile police 
atrocity, nor was it mainly a matter of race relations. Of course, the media worked overtime 
to argue otherwise, endlessly showing a white trucker being beaten by blacks, in order to 
equate him with Rodney King and trivialize the whole matter. Pushing most of the story out 
of the way, this tactic says, one "brutal and senseless" act cancels the other and things are not 
really that bad, except for such behavior. As if excesses committed by a population enraged 
beyond measure are the same as a calculated, vicious act by those who are not. More 
importantly, what is truly "brutal and senseless" is remaining passive about systematic 
degradation and not rising up wrathfully. 

The media "coverage" was simply outrageous. Almost none of it hesitated to openly take 
sides against the slave revolt and array every kind of oppositional thinking against it. An 
outbreak that cost some 60 lives, burned and looted 5,000 businesses to the tune of $1 billion, 
and required 8,500 troops and countless cops from all over southern California to contain, 
was attributed to a few "hoodlums and opportunists" -an incredible lie in itself. All media 
attention seemed to turn to politicians and church leaders-for their help in denouncing the 
events unfolding, those cops who speak for the very few. The media behavior only reminds 
one that its job is always to advertise the culture defined by the commodity and its rules (viz. 

On May 1st a group of German anarchists in Berlin unfurled a banner declaring their 
solidarity with the people of Los Angeles and attacked a near by group of neo-Nazis. In a 
radio interview may 6th, permitted safely after the fact, sociologist Harry Edwards that what 
happened "was not a black vs. white thing. Everyone was out in the streets, old and young 
and every color." He also made it clear that people with jobs took part, including employees 
who destroyed their employers' businesses. So much for the vain hope of capital that 
investment in new business will create social peace. 

The rioting was not confined to the ghetto. In L.A., it spread to downtown, Westwood, mid- 
Wilshire and Hollywood, as desert-camouflaged armor guarded shopping malls for nearly 50 
miles in every direction. The violence could not be isolated in south central Los Angeles any 
more than the depth of alienation can that exists all across the rotting culture. The decline of 
voting to depths that challenge the very legitimacy of the phony of representation is one 

Those who wish to remain slaves as every authentic aspect of society, and nature along with 
it, are looted every day still summon up their defenses of slavery. Others, everywhere, who 
will not suppress their anger, their passion to live, find an inspiration in the explosion of 
those whose pride and dignity could not be suppressed. As Marc Fumaroli put it earlier this 
year, "the new generation is now discovering that the state of being a consumer, and above 
all a 'cultural' consumer, is the most humiliating and deceptive of all." 

We All Live In Waco 

The quest for authenticity and community, completely denied and rendered desperate, 
finds its home in Jonestown and Waco. The sense of truly being alive and of belonging 
has almost nowhere to go in the society whose two fastest growing classes are the 
homeless and prisoners. Daily existence is increasingly that of despair, depression, and 
derangement, punctuated by news of the latest serial murder spree or global eco-disaster, 
consumed as horrible entertainments in the emptiness. 

DEBORD expressed the situation accurately: "It should be known that servitude 
henceforth truly wants to be loved for itself, and no longer because it would bring some 
extrinsic advantage. Previously, it could pass for a protection; but it no longer protects 
anything." Even the apparatus of oppression concedes virtually the same point: Forbes, 
organ of finance capital, commemorated its 75th anniversary with a cover-story theme of 
"Why We Feel so Bad when We Have it so Good." In the Psychological Society at large, 
in which the only reality is the personal, its hallmark denial and delusion are challenged, 
almost ironically, by the definitely impoverished realm of the personal. More and more 
clearly, the choice is between craven servitude or a qualitative break with the entire 
force-field of alienation. 

IN A CULT everything that an individual has is invested, the only guarantee against the 
total refusal of that cult. How else, for example, could it be endured that wives and 
children were offered up to David Koresh and blind submission obtained rather than 
revolt? Evidently autonomy and self-respect can be freely given over when the world so 
thoroughly devalues them. 

NONE OF US is immune from the horrors, commonplace and spectacular; the immune 
system itself, in fact, seems to be giving way, and this is not confined to AIDS or TB. 
The stress of work, according to a March report on the UN's International Labor 
Organization, is advancing to the point of a "worldwide epidemic." The overall situation 
is gravely worse than when Nietzsche observed that "most people think that nothing but 
this wearying reality of ours is possible." 

CURRENT reality has become impossible and continues to lose credibility. We must be 
outsiders, never represented, investing nothing in the death march we are expected to 
help reproduce. The ultimate pleasure lies in destroying that which is destroying us, 
in the spirit of the Situationists, who, when asked how they were going to destroy the 
dominant culture, replied, "In two ways: gradually at first, then suddenly." 


Technogogues and technopaths we have had with us for some time. The Artificial 
Intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky, for instance, was well-known in the early 1980's for 
his description of the human brain as "a 3 pound computer made of meat." He was 
featured in the December 1983 issue of Psychology Today, occasioning the following 

Marvin Minsky: With the wholly uncritical treatment -- nay, giddy embrace -- of high 
technology, even to such excrescences as machine "emotions" which you develop and 
promote, Psychology Today has at least made it publicly plain what's intended for social 
life. Your dehumanizing work is a prime contribution to high tech's accelerating motion 
toward an ever more artificial, de-individuated, empty landscape. I believe I am not alone 
in the opinion that vermin such as you will one day be considered among the worst 
criminals this century has produced. 
(Signed) In Revulsion, John Zerzan 

A dozen years later the number of those actively engaged in the desolation of the soul and 
the murder of nature has probably risen; but support the entire framework of such activity 
has undoubtedly eroded. 

Enter the Unabomber (he/she/they) with a critique, in acts as well as words, of our sad, 
perverse, and increasingly bereft technological existence. Unabomber calls for a return to 
"wild nature" via "the complete and permanent destruction of modern industrial society in 
every part of the world," and the replacement of that impersonal, unfree, and alienated 
society by that of small, face-to-face social groupings. He has killed three and wounded 
23 in the service of this profoundly radical vision. 

There are two somewhat obvious objections to this theory and practice. For one thing, a 
return to undomesticated autonomous ways of living would not be achieved by the 
removal of industrialism alone. Such removal would still leave the domination of nature, 
subjugation of women, war, religion, the state, and division of labor, to cite some basic 
social pathologies. It is civilization itself that must be undone to go where Unabomber 
wants to go. In other words, the wrong turn for humanity was the Agricultural 
Revolution, much more fundamentally than the Industrial Revolution. 

In terms of practice, the mailing of explosive devices intended for the agents who are 
engineering the present catastrophe is too random. Children, mail carriers and others 
could easily be killed. Even if one granted the legitimacy of striking at the high-tech 
horror show by terrorizing its indispensable architects, collateral harm is not justifiable. 

Meanwhile, Unabomber operates in a context of massive psychic immiseration and loss 
of faith in all of the system's institutions. How many moviegoers, to be more specific, 
took issue with Terminator 2 and its equating of science and technology with death and 
destruction? Keay Davidson's "A Rage Against Science" (San Francisco Examiner, 

4/30/95) observed that Unabomber's "avowed hatred of science and technological trends 
reflects growing popular disillusionment with science." 

A noteworthy example of the resonance that his sweeping critique of the modern world 
enjoys is "The Evolution of Despair" by Robert Wright, cover story of TIME for August 
28. The long article discusses the Unabomber's indictment soberly and sympathetically in 
an effort to plumb "the source of our pervasive sense of discontent." 

At the same time, not surprisingly, other commentators have sought to minimize the 
possible impact of such ideas. "Unabomber Manifesto Not Particularly Unique" is the 
dismissive summary John Schwartz provided for the August 20 Washington Post. 
Schwartz found professors who would loftily attest to the unoriginality of fundamental 
questioning of society, as if anything like that goes on in classrooms. Ellul, Juenger and 
others with a negative view of technology are far from old hat; they are unknown, not 
part of accepted, respectable discourse. The cowardice and dishonesty typical of 
professors and journalists could hardly be more clearly represented. 

Also easily predictable has been the antipathy to Unabomber-type ideas from the liberal- 
left. "Unabummer" was Alexander Cockburn's near-hysterical denunciation in The 
Nation, August 28/September 4. This pseudo-critic of U.S. capitalism rants about the 
Unabomber's "homicidal political nuttiness," the fruit of an "irrational" American 
Anarchist tradition. Cockburn says that Unabomber represents a "rotted-out romanticism 
of the individual and of nature," that nature is gone forever and we'd better accept its 
extinction. In reply to this effort to vilify and marginalize both Unabomber and 
anarchism, Bob Black points out (unpublished letter to the editor) the worldwide 
resurgence of anarchism and finds Unabomber expressing "the best and the predominant 
thinking in contemporary North American anarchism, which has mostly gotten over the 
workerism and productivism which it too often used to share with Marxism." 

In Spring '95 Earth First! spokesperson Judy Bari labeled Unabomber "a sociopath," 
going on to declare, definitively but mistakenly, that "there is no one in the radical 
environmental movement who is calling for violence." This is not the place to adequately 
discuss the politics of radical environmentalism, but Bari's pontificating sounds like the 
voice of the many anarcho-liberals and anarcho-pacifists who wish to go no further in 
defense of the wild than tired, ineffective civil disobedience, and who brandish such 
timid and compromised slogans as "no deforestation without representation." 

The Summer '95 issue of Slingshot, tabloid of politically correct Berkeley militants, 
contained a brief editorial trashing the Unabomber for creating "the real danger of 
government repression" of the radical milieu. The fear that misplaces blame on 
Unabomber overlooks the simple fact that any real blows against the Megamachine will 
invite responses from our enemies. The specter of repression is most effectively banished 
by doing nothing. 

For their part, the "anarchists" of Love and Rage (August/September) have also joined 
the anti-Unabomber leftist chorus. Wayne Price's "Is the Unabomber an Anarchist?" 

concedes, with Bob Black, that "most anarchists today do not regard the current 
development of industrial technology as 'progressive' or even 'neutral,' as do Marxists and 
liberals." But after giving this guarded lip-service to the ascendancy of Unabomber-like 
ideas, Price virulently decries Unabomber as "a murderer dragging noble ideas through 
the mud" and withholds even such political and legal support that he would accord 
authoritarian leftists targeted by the state. Love and Rage is defined by a heavy-handed 
manipulative organize-the-masses ideology; approaches that are more honest and more 
radical are either ignored or condemned by these politicians. 

But this selective mini-survey of opposition to Unabomber does not by any means 
exhaust the range of responses. There are other perspectives, which have mainly, for 
obvious reasons, been expressed only privately. Some of us, for one thing, have found a 
glint of hope in the public appearance, at last, of a challenge to the fundamentals of a 
depraved landscape. In distinction to the widespread feeling that everything outside of the 
self is beyond our control, the monopoly of lies has been broken. It might be said that 
Unabomber's (media) impact is here today, only to be forgotten tomorrow. But at least a 
few will have been able to understand and remember. The irony, of course, is that lethal 
bombings were necessary for an alternative to planetary and individual destruction to be 
allowed to be heard. 

The concept of justice should not be overlooked in considering the Unabomber 
phenomenon. In fact, except for his targets, when have the many little Eichmanns who 
are preparing the Brave New World ever been called to account? Where is any 
elementary personal responsibility when the planners of our daily and global death march 
act with complete impunity? 

The ruling order rewards such destroyers and tries to polish their image. The May 21 
New York Times Magazine's "Unabomber and David Gelernter" humanizes the latter, 
injured by a Unabomber bomb at Yale, as a likable computer visionary preparing a 
"Renaissance of the human spirit." From no other source than the article itself, however, 
it is clear that Gelernter is helping to usher in an authoritarian dystopia based on all the 
latest high-tech vistas, like genetic engineering. 

Is it unethical to try to stop those whose contributions are bringing an unprecedented 
assault on life? Or is it unethical to just accept our passive roles in the current Zeitgeist of 
postmodern cynicism and know-nothingism? As a friend in California put it recently, 
when justice is against the law, only outlaws can effect justice. 

The lengthy Unabomber manuscript will go undiscussed here; its strengths and 
weaknesses deserve separate scrutiny. These remarks mainly shed light on some of the 
various, mostly negative commentary rather than directly on their object. It is often the 
case that one can most readily learn about society by watching its reactions, across the 
spectrum, to those who would challenge it. 

"Well, I believe in FC/Unabomber — it's all over the country... his ideas are, as the 
situationists said, 'in everyone's heads'; it's just a matter of listening to yer own rage," 

from a Midwesterner in the know. Or as Anne Eisenberg, from Polytechnic University in 
Brooklyn, admitted, "Scratch most people and you'll get a Luddite." 

And from the Boulder Weekly, Robert Perkinson's July 6, '95 column sagely concluded: 
"Amidst the overwhelming madness of unbridled economic growth and postmodern 
disintegration, is such nostalgia, or even such rage, really crazy? For many, especially 
those who scrape by in unfulfilling jobs and peer longing toward stars obscured by 
beaming street lights, the answer is probably no. And for them, the Unabomber may not 
be a psychopathic demon. They may wish FC the best of luck." 


Domestication News 

Worth noting is a concise article in the March 4 issue the British journal Nature. Almost 
4,000 years of agriculture in central Mexico yield a dramatic picture to the research 
efforts of archaeologists O'Hara, Street-Perrot, and Burt. Conclusively debunked is the 
notion that traditional farming methods were more benign than more modern methods. 

Severe soil erosion and other forms of environmental degradation commenced, in fact, 
with agriculture itself. By the time of the Spanish conquest (1521 A.D.), contrary to 
widespread belief, Mesoamerica presented anything but a pristine landscape. "Erosion 
caused by the Spanish introduction of plough agriculture," the authors observe from 
exhaustive soil samples, "was apparently no more severe than that associated with 
traditional agricultural methods." As they explain later in the article, "it is hard to 
distinguish any specific impact of the introduction of plough agriculture and draught 
animals by the Spanish after A.D. 1521. 

The point is plain: domestication is domestication, and embodies a qualitatively negative 
logic for the natural world. Agriculture per se brings a ruinous, unidirectional impact, 
despite the wishful thinking of those who envision a coexistence with domestication, 
consisting of benign, 'green' methods that would reverse the global destruction of the 

The devastation exists on a much more basic level, whose reality must be faced. As the 
article concludes, "There is a move by many environmental agencies both in Mexico and 
elsewhere for a return to traditional forms of agriculture, as they are considered to be 
better for the environment. As our findings indicate that traditional farming techniques 
cause significant erosion, it is unlikely that a return to prehistoric farming methods would 
solve the problem of environmental degradation." 

We Have To Dismantle All This 

The unprecedented reality of the present is one of enormous sorrow and cynicism, "a 
great tear in the human heart," as Richard Rodriguez put it. A time of ever-mounting 
everyday horrors, of which any newspaper is full, accompanies a spreading 
environmental apocalypse. Alienation and the more literal contaminants compete for the 
leading role in the deadly dialectic of life in divided, technology-ridden society. Cancer, 
unknown before civilization, now seems epidemic in a society increasingly barren and 
literally malignant. 

Soon, apparently, everyone will be using drugs; prescription and illegal becoming a 
relatively unimportant distinction. Attention Deficit Disorder is one example of an 
oppressive effort to medicalize the rampant restlessness and anxiety caused by a life- 
world ever more shriveled and unfulfilling. The ruling order will evidently go to any 
lengths to deny social reality; its techno-psychiatry views human suffering as chiefly 
biological in nature and genetic in origin. 

New strains of disease, impervious to industrial medicine, begin to spread globally while 
fundamentalism (Christian, Judaic, Islamic) is also on the rise, a sign of deeply-felt 
misery and frustration. And here at home New Age spirituality (Adorno's "philosophy 
for dunces") and the countless varieties of "healing" therapies wear thin in their 
delusional pointlessness. To assert that we can be whole/enlightened/healed within the 
present madness amounts to endorsing the madness. 

The gap between rich and poor is widening markedly in this land of the homeless and the 
imprisoned. Anger rises and massive denial, cornerstone of the system's survival, is now 
at least having a troubled sleep. A false world is beginning to get the amount of support it 
deserves: distrust of public institutions is almost total. But the social landscape seems 
frozen and the pain of youth is perhaps the greatest of all. It was recently announced 
(10/94) that the suicide rate among young men ages 15 to 19 more than doubled between 
1985 and 1991. Teen suicide is the response of a growing number who evidently cannot 
imagine maturity in such a place as this. 

The overwhelmingly pervasive culture is a fast-food one, bereft of substance or promise. 
As Dick Hebdige aptly judged, "the postmodern is the modern without the hopes and 
dreams that made modernity bearable." Postmodernism advertises itself as pluralistic, 
tolerant, and non-dogmatic. In practice it is a superficial, fast-forward, deliberately 
confused, fragmented, media-obsessed, illiterate, fatalistic, uncritical excrescence, 
indifferent to questions of origins, agency, history or causation. It questions nothing of 
importance and is the perfect expression of a setup that is stupid and dying and wants to 
take us with it. 

Our postmodern epoch finds its bottom-line expression in consumerism and technology, 
which combine in the stupefying force of mass media. Attention-getting, easily-digested 
images and phrases distract one from the fact that this horror-show of domination is 

precisely held together by such entertaining, easily digestible images and phrases. Even 
the grossest failures of society can be used to try to narcotize its subjects, as with the case 
of violence, a source of endless diversion. We are titillated by the representation of what 
at the same time is threatening, suggesting that boredom is an even worse torment than 

Nature, what is left of it, that is, serves as a bitter reminder of how deformed, non- 
sensual, and fraudulent is contemporary existence. The death of the natural world and the 
technological penetration of every sphere of life, what is left of it, proceed with an 
accelerating impetus. Wired, Mondo 2000, zippies, cyber-everything, virtual reality, 
Artificial Intelligence, on and on, up to and including Artificial Life, the ultimate 
postmodern science. 

Meanwhile, however, our "post-industrial" computer age has resulted in the fact that we 
are more than ever "appendages to the machine," as the 19th century phrase had it. 
Bureau of Justice statistics (7/94), by the way, report that the increasingly computer- 
surveilled workplace is now the setting for nearly one million violent crimes per year, 
and that the number of murdered bosses has doubled in the past decade. 

This hideous arrangement expects, in its arrogance, that its victims will somehow remain 
content to vote, recycle, and pretend it will all be fine. To employ a line from Debord, 
"The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing and deserve nothing." 

Civilization, technology, and a divided social order are the components of an indissoluble 
whole, a death-trip that is fundamentally hostile to qualitative difference. Our answer 
must be qualitative, not the quantitative, more-of-the-same palliatives that actually 
reinforce what we must end. 


He means it. Do you? 

Today opposition is anarchist or it is nonexistent. This is the barest minimum coherence 
in the struggle against an engulfing totality. And while ten years ago the milieu generally 
called anti-authoritarian was largely syndicalist, those leftist residues are fading out 
altogether. Very few now find a vista of work and production at all liberatory. As the 
smell of this false and rotting order rises to the heavens, registering an unprecedented toll 
on all living beings, faith in the whole modern world evaporates. Industrialism and its 
ensemble looks like it has been a very bad idea, sort of a wrong turn begun still earlier. 
Civilization itself, with its logic of domestication and destruction, seems untenable. After 
all, is there anyone who is happy in this desolation? Lovely new indicators of how it is 
panning out include increasing self-mutilation among the young and murder of children 
by their own parents. Somehow a society that is steadily more impersonal, cynical, de- 
skilled, boring, artificial, depressing, suicide-prompting, used up, drug-ridden, ugly, 
anxiety-causing and future-less brings a questioning as to why it has come to this/what's 
it all about? 

Leftism and its superficial program is nearly extinct. Its adherents have folded their tens 
of manipulation and, in some cases, moved on to far more interesting adventures. 

Anarchism, if not yet anarchy, is the only scene going, even if the blackout on the subject 
is still in effect. As if to match the accelerating decomposition of society and 
displacement of life at large, determined resistance is also metamorphosing with some 
rapidity. The rout of the left, following the swiftly declining prestige of History, Progress 
and techno-salvation, is only one development. Old militants, with their ethic of sacrifice 
and order, their commitment to economy and exchange, are already fixed on the museum 
shelves of partial revolt. Enter the Unabomber and a new line is being drawn. This time 
the bohemian schiz-fluxers, Green yuppies, hobbyist anarcho-journalists, condescending 
organizers of the poor, hip nihilo-aesthetes and all the other "anarchists" who thought 
their pretentious pastimes would go unchallenged indefinitely - well, it's time to pick 
which side you're on. It may be that here is also a Rubicon from which there will be no 
turning back. Some, no doubt, would prefer to wait for a perfect victim. Many would like 
to unlearn what they know of the invasive and unchallenged violence generated 
everywhere by the prevailing order - in order to condemn the Unabomber' s counter- 

But here is the man and the challenge before us. 

Anarchists! One more effort if you would be enemies of this long nightmare! 

Think for yourself. Act on your own. 

How Ruinous Does it Have To Get? 

Recent developments make an all-encompassing crisis plain to see. Society could 
scarcely be more bizarrely unhealthy, but is getting even more so all the time. With two 
million people behind bars, kids as young as two are on behavior control drugs like 
Ritalin. Sunset magazine carries pages of ads for "boot camps." "Got an angry child?" 
"Defiant teen?" 

A recent national study disclosed that emotional disorders among children have more 
than doubled in the past 20 years. Homicidal outbursts at school, as deeply shocking as 
they are, correspond to murderous rampages at work or at Burger King. Meanwhile, the 
trend toward year-round schooling feeds into the current prospect of a lifetime of more 
and more hours of work. 

Last November a U.S. News & World Report survey announced that over 90 percent of 
students cheat. No surprise, where a similarly high percentage of citizens feel 
cynicism/no confidence concerning most of the ruling institutions. 

Youthful smoking is on the rise; so are binge drinking, and health threatening obesity. 
And as with adults, kids' levels of anxiety, stress, isolation, and boredom are going up. 
TV fare is shock - and peep - show tabloid oriented for the increasing jaded. USA Today 
for July 18 pondered "Why America is so short-tempered," as road rage erupts and 
parents get violent-to the point of murder-at Little League games. 

It was recently reported that drug abuse and addiction in Oregon went up 232 percent 
from 1995 to 1999. On the national level , one out every three people say they have felt 
close to a nervous breakdown at some point, according to a study released in early July. 
The assortment of "healing" and alternative therapy approaches multiplies, perhaps in 
proportion to a massive and pervasive denial of the root causes of all the suffering and 

Meanwhile, afflictions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia debilitate 
many; no specific causes can be found. It is as if a growing number of people are simply 
becoming allergic to society itself. 

So many are now taking pharmaceutical drugs (e.g. antidepressants) that they now 
constitute a significant pollutant. An April issue of Science News reported this new form 
of contamination of water and soil. 

Thus we now see immiseration in the personal and social spheres meeting up with the 
impoverishment of our physical environment. A graphic suggestion that the pain and 
emptiness felt by human subjects of capital and technology is connected to the ongoing 
destruction of nature (global warming, accelerating species extinction, oceans dying, 

If the salaried thinkers of the dominant emptiness largely ignore the glaring fact of 
engulfing alienation, the word is definitely beginning to spread nonetheless. There is an 
alternative consciousness: for example, in the anti-culture of hundreds of the 
underground, do-it-yourself zines and pirate radio projects. And it is even showing up 
above ground, in films like Matrix and Fight Club, in novels like Alan Lightman's The 
Diagnosis, and in the work of Bret Easton Ellis. Critique is making itself felt in many 

A culture this bereft cannot long sustain itself. Especially if we are equal to the task of 
demolishing it in favor of life, health, freedom, authenticity. 

How Postmodernism Greases The Rails For The Cyborg 

The reigning, pervasive cultural ethos is postmodern, with its sharply narrowed ambitions 
concerning thought, its tendency to shade into the cynical. 

It began in large part as French reaction against the grand and total claims of Marxism. 
Emerging and spreading about 20 years ago, in a period of reaction with almost no social 
movements, postmodernism bears the imprint of a period of conservatism and lowered 
expectations. It is also already a result of the "cyborg" society in which a technical 
imperative tends to subsume or co-opt alternatives. 

Postmodernism tells us that we can't grasp the whole, indeed that the desire for an 
overview of what's going on out there is unhealthy and suspect, even totalitarian. I don't 
argue specifically with postmodernism' s rejection of Marxism. We have seen, after all, 
how grand systems — "metanarratives," as they are fashionably referred to — have proven 
oppressive rather than liberatory. 

Skeptical about the claims and results of previous systems of thought, postmodernism has 
in fact jettisoned pretty nearly all desire or hope of making sense of reality as we 
experience it. PM abandons the "arrogance" of trying to figure out the origins, logic, 
causality, or structure of the world we live in. 

Instead, postmodernists focus on surfaces, fragments, margins. Reality is too shifting, 
complex, indeterminate to decipher or judge. Too "messy," too "interesting" to allow for 
fixed conclusions, as Donna Haraway puts it in her well-known "Cyborg Manifesto." 

Meaning and value are old-fashioned illusions, and so is the practice of writing with 
clarity. The postmodern style is notorious for its word play, dense language games, and 
fondness for contradiction. To cite Haraway' s "Cyborg Manifesto" again, she concedes 
that "the main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring 
of militarism and patriarchal capitalism" — but that in no way dims her enthusiasm for a 
cyborg (part human, part machine), high tech future! 

Shared experience and direct experience are two major casualties of an increasingly 
technified society. But Haraway and the postmodern crowd in general are uncritical of 
the techno imperative that is so rampantly gaining ground and leaching away what little 
quality and texture is left in our everyday lives. Of course, once one renounces any 
attempt to comprehend the overall situation, the door is wide open for technology and 
capital to fill the vacuum. Things grow stark and menacing in every sphere, but 
conclusions are to be avoided. 

Postmodernism celebrates evanescent flows, a state of no boundaries, the transgressive. 
In the actual world, however, this translates as an embrace of the unimpeded movement 
of capital, the experience of consumer novelty. As the dimensions of personal robusticity 

and social interaction steadily erode, along with meaning and value, a consumer society 
in cyberspace becomes the uncontested next stage of human existence. 

Postmodernism gives up on understanding how and why the cyborg future is overtaking 
us. Division of labor, domestication, the nature of technology — not to mention less 
abstract factors like drudgery, toxicity, the steady destruction of nature — are integral to 
the high-tech trajectory. Of no concern, evidently, to postmodernists, who continue to 
cling to the subtle, the tentative, the narrowly focused. 

Virtual reality is an example that mirrors the postmodern fascination with surfaces, 
explicitly rejoicing in its own depthlessness — one obvious way in which it is the 
accomplice of the Brave New World development. No challenge there, no challenge even 
plausible in the 

collapse and refusal of the possibility of understanding the totality. The political 
counterpart of postmodernism is pragmatism, the tired liberalism that accommodates 
itself to the debased norm. 

The decay of meaning, passion, inner vibrancy has been going on for a while. Max 
Weber spoke of disenchantment, for instance. But postmodernism is the culture of no 
resistance to this juggernaut. The good news is that there are signs of life, signs that folks 
in various places are refusing a cyborg future. 


So... how did you become an anarchist? 

I was one of the Baby Boom generation's first arrivals, born in Salem, Oregon two years 
before the end of World War II. My parents and my older sister Jackie had moved to Oregon 
from Nebraska in 1940, looking for a break from tough times in the Midwest of the Great 
Depression. Before they came west, Dad worked at a gas station six, and every other week 
seven days a week. Getting by was not easy. Dreadful winters and not always enough food 
for three. 

The times were less precarious when John and Lorene — both of Bohemian forbears as far 
back as anyone knew — and their nine-year-old daughter started over on the West Coast. The 
prospect of war was spurring the economy. Hard times were ending in most places. I showed 
up in 1943; my brother Jim a month after World War II ended, two years later. 

Married in 1929 and having endured a decade of Depression, my folks were among many 
who feared that war's end would mean another economic downturn. But Cold War military 
spending precluded the return of lean years, and instead helped kick off the consumer- 
spending economic expansion of the '50s. I grew up in those years, in a fairly typical small- 
town, Catholic, nuclear family world, within the larger world of new things like TV, the H- 
bomb, freeways, and a mainly unexamined, triumphalist U.S. world view. I can remember — 
it must have been 1952— bicycling around the neighborhood with a pack of friends shouting 
"We Like Ike!" And around that age, maybe ten, fearing and hating "communists." We had 
by this time moved from Salem to nearby Woodburn, an even smaller town, quite an unlikely 
place to have found any Reds. 

My first baby step away from the conformist know-nothingism of the rabidly all- American 
'50s was to become a strong Adlai Stevenson-for-President supporter in 1956. In what way, 
if any, he was different from Eisenhower (who drubbed him in 1952 and 1956) I couldn't 
have said. But I think this enthusiasm was a slight stirring, clueless as it was. 

By the mid- '50s both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. possessed nuclear weapons, so strategic 
competition became focused on missile development — the Space Race. The enforced 
political orthodoxy was buttressed by a major emphasis on science and technology. Boys 
were encouraged to devote themselves to these pursuits, in the national interest. In 1957 the 
Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. Their achievement intensified the 
American focus on math, sciences, engineering, and the like. 

Ron, Steve, and I were in the 7th and 8th grades at this time. Caught up in the prevailing 
atmosphere, we were young science nerds with our own version of competitive 
experimentation. We'd gone from chemistry sets to the construction of small bombs, thanks 
to materials ordered from chemical supply companies. A pound of sulphur cost $1.00, easily 
affordable even with our meager allowances. Magnesium wire was more expensive, and was 
paid for by our summer work as harvesters in the fields near Woodburn. One of our pastimes 
was coming up with gunpowder- like compounds. We competed to see whose compound 
would oxidize fastest while leaving the smallest non-combustible traces. Whoever was least 

efficient was dubbed that week's "Residue King." I recall that Steve was usually the mocked 
monarch. When we entered high school, we left our interest in explosives behind. Plus the 
fact that my dad came across the container for our biggest effort yet, and confronted me 
about it. He wasn't angry, but rather shaken, grasping how much destruction we could have 

After eight years at St. Luke's School I got a further four years at the hands of Benedictines 
in Mount Angel, just about ten miles from Woodburn. Hands were literally involved at Mt. 
Angel Prep, where priests frequently resorted to physical punishment. High school at this 
small, boys-only place next to a monastery was essentially medieval. Along with Latin and 
Church History, the teachers had the divine right to clock you whenever they lost their 
tempers, and promoted brutality among the fairly rowdy student body. Juniors and seniors 
were encouraged to shave the heads of any freshman or sophomores caught smoking on the 
school grounds, and for greater or repeated infractions there was the "belt line." This meant 
that the malcontent had to run a school assembly gauntlet, whipped by the belts of all 
students. Those who didn't participate were forced to run the gauntlet in turn. 

To gain acceptance, I played football until my senior year. The Friday night games really 
weren't bad. I was far from being an accomplished player, but the games were a picnic 
compared to practices. By my senior year I'd become "one of the guys" and decided to 
forego a last season of afternoon torture. At that point it wasn't worth the daily afternoon 
ordeal of brutal drills. 

I mainly stayed out of trouble until just before graduating, when a couple of the holy Fathers 
discovered that their A- student had been less the model character than they'd thought. I got 
whacked in the face a few times for my minor troublemaking. 

Apparently somewhat like another bright little bomb-maker at the time — Ted Kaczynski in 
Illinois — fitting in was not always easy. I did have some close friends, but generally felt out 
of place and confused by many prevailing norms. I have a vivid recollection even now of 
watching the popular late '50s sitcom, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." Certainly 
there wasn't anything even slightly adventurous (or funny) about this family of zombies, and 
the tinny, canned laughter made me feel uneasy and left out. Ricky Nelson, Ozzie and 
Harriet's younger son, was the program's teen heart-throb, while I had no idea at all what to 
say to girls. Very slow in this area for some time. 

Maybe I wasn't much more confused or estranged than the average adolescent in my vague, 
uninformed appetite for something different. The Beat Generation, as interpreted in cartoon- 
like fashion by Life magazine, represented exotic rebellion to me. Dirty beatniks! Not 
everyone, it seemed, was a smiling, patriotic consumer. Portland, Oregon's Reed College 
seemed a pretty beat place when I visited in my senior year, including people sitting on the 
floor and dogs in the bookstore. The campus exuded a non-conformist, intellectual 
atmosphere that really grabbed me. But the priests at my school were decidedly appalled at 
my desire to apply to such a hotbed of godless, bohemian communism. I needed three letters 
of recommendation from teachers and couldn't get even one. 

I was thrilled, however, to get a scholarship to Stanford, and enrolled Fall, 1961. The Farm, 
as it has been called since railroad baron Leland Stanford founded it in the 1890s, was 

beginning its ascendancy, paralleling the rise of adjacent Silicon Valley and the gradual, 
overall shift of power in the U.S. from the East coast to the Pacific Rim. I was rather awed by 
its palm-, eucalyptus-, and sports-car-studded 10,000 acres, complete with lake, fire 
department, stables, golf course, etc. And frankly wondered if I would make the grade, 
especially against the many incoming freshmen from real prep schools: eighteen-year-olds 
incomparably more sophisticated than me, familiar with such things as foreign films, folk 
music, the blues, and Camus (whose name I didn't even know how to pronounce). 

One rich kid I knew very slightly dropped out after only a few weeks, declaring in a letter to 
the campus Daily that he'd already done his "penance" academically and was bored by 
required, introductory courses. I recall standing with my mouth open as he packed his bags to 
go off to Switzerland for the skiing. 

But I learned fairly quickly that flunking out was unlikely, and from that point on an inchoate 
disillusionment began to set in. As a would-be beatnik who remained a Catholic, I wasn't 
really turned on by college classes. It was exciting to select interesting-sounding courses at 
the beginning of every term, only to feel later that they were just successive pre-packaged 
elements in a competitive grind for grades. Stanford was and is a lot of very intelligent 
people, minus original thinking: a pretty conservative place. 

So I went about in my army fatigue jacket with no real friends, the bloom fading from the 
rose. It was hard to maintain real interest, and my grades began to slip. A sojourn in Europe, 
at Stanford-in-Italy in Florence, at the end of my sophomore year, helped some. Especially 
because I made a few very close friends in the Florentine villa that was home for six months. 
And it was in Italy that I first began to take a critical look at social and political life. To 
improve my Italian I subscribed to Umanif, the Communist Party daily. I was struck by the 
stark poverty in Naples when I hitchhiked there. Another watershed during that overseas 
sojourn in 1963 was the bombing of a Birmingham church, a racist attack that killed four 
black children. I don't remember discussing it or thinking about it at length, but it had an 
impact on me. 

Hitchhiking to Naples that summer, I was struck by a tableau in a very poor district. An old 
man and a teenage boy were studying together in an old building; the former was apparently 
teaching the lad something, in the neighborhood hall of the Italian Communist Party. I 
remember coming across them and feeling moved by their connection with each other. This 
was perhaps the very beginning of my political life, the start of a replacement (or grounding) 
of values that had before this time been religious. 

In the summer of '63 I also hitchhiked to Assisi. My Christian faith had all but evaporated; I 
went there to give it a last shot. St. Francis, with his love for animals and his innocence, 
appealed to me. But I found no resuscitation of interest in Catholicism. In fact, the church at 
that historic place was curiously modern, and the priest in charge was actually from Ohio. 
Not inspiring. 

Back on the Farm, my focus on school resumed a tendency to blur. I was Class of '65, but by 
early that year I literally couldn't concentrate. Upon taking an exam I would find that 
virtually none of the material I'd read came to mind. Some kind of minor breakdown was 

happening, so I got a medical leave of absence, returning to Oregon and enrolling at a tiny 
Willamette Valley college in order to avoid the mounting Vietnam war draft. 

Mt. Angel College, another Benedictine place of learning, was metamorphosing in an 
interesting "sign of the times" direction in 1965. The liberal arts college had been a safe, 
Catholic alternative to more worldly schools and was often a place where parents sent 
wayward kids for moral improvement. Like Sarah, nabbed for selling pot at her California 
high school. 

Well, the '60s were already underway in some unlikely places, like totally out-of-the-way 
Mt. Angel College, in 1965. And of course sending young people there who were already 
weirdos and discontents only hastened the process by which the inmates overran the asylum. 
Early hippie students and offbeat teachers (especially in the art department) lured straighter 
types into this obscure locus of the just-emerging "counter-culture." By 1968, the 
institution's president would be defrocked for siding with students against Benedictine 
authority. Already, in temporary exile in Oregon, it began to seem to me that a new day was 
arriving. In any case, it was a generally fun, healing place to be, just when I really needed it. 

Meanwhile, starting just before I dropped out in early '65, something new was under way in 
the Bay Area environs near Stanford. It was at this time, in Berkeley, that the first large-scale 
anti-Vietnam War protest took place. A very dramatic evening march with a sadly anti- 
climatic ending. 

Thousands of us streamed along down Telegraph Avenue, heading for the Oakland Army 
depot on San Francisco Bay. The aim was to proceed south through Berkeley, west through 
Oakland, all the way to the base, and then interfere with its operations. Most of the supplies 
fueling the war were being shipped from that particular arms depot. 

We drew up to Ashby Avenue, next to the Berkeley-Oakland boundary, and stopped. Across 
the intersection of Telegraph and Ashby were hundreds of Oakland cops, a large phalanx of 
pigs in riot gear, barring our way. 

Various speakers discussed this impasse, stressing the need to move forward anyway. The 
mood of the crowd grew stronger in response to the challenge we faced. Grew equal to the 
fear we felt, and then some. 

But at this crucial point, Ken Kesey got to the makeshift podium and began playing "Home 
on the Range" on a harmonica. Slow and plaintive, the tune served to deflate the resolve of 
the thousands of protestors. And the march was simply called off. There was some 
announcement about meeting the next day, as I recall, but the evening's showdown was over. 
The main thrust of the ensuing commentary was that cooler and wiser heads had prevailed. 
No one was hurt; common sense and nonviolence had overcome temporary passion. 

And within a very few months, the U.S. government had decided on all-out war in Vietnam. 
An escalating campaign killed upwards of four million Asians over the ensuing ten years. 

It didn't dawn on me until much later that there was very likely a connection between what 
happened on that night in Berkeley early in 1965 and the course of genocidal war in 

Southeast Asia. Foreign policy may have hinged on the protest that didn't happen. Public 
response to war is generally a key factor to be reckoned with, and what occurred in Berkeley 
was token resistance, at best. Since no real opposition was expected, the authorities had no 
political reason to hold back. 

If we had gone forward, people would have been hurt, almost certainly. Some might even 
have been killed. But the government might well have decided that serious resistance could 
be expected if it moved forward with a greatly intensified war. 

In other words, we failed that night, and millions died. All the ritual peacenik demos of the 
'60s and early '70s failed. The war ended in 1975 because Vietnamese kept fighting and 
because American troops began refusing to fight. The route of serious resistance at home was 
ruled out very early on. 

After my time off in Oregon, at Mt. Angel College (it felt mainly like time off, in that 
relaxed, small-town bohemia), I returned to Stanford in the fall of '65 to do my last two 
terms. "The Farm" was the same stodgy, isolated place it had always been, but by this time 
something was definitely in the air. Stanford was catching up with Mt. Angel, and the Haight 
Ashbury and Berkeley were now in high gear, if you'll pardon the pun. 

The one outrageous scene wasn't on campus — big surprise — but in adjacent Palo Alto and 
East Palo Alto. Ken Kesey and fellow partyers including Neal Cassidy (soon to be called the 
Merry Pranksters), the Grateful Dead (a local band that had been known until recently as the 
Warlocks), and LSD, a new, defenses-melting drug, combined in all-night phenomena 
advertised as Acid Tests. ("Can You Pass the Acid Test?") 

With a couple of friends who were more in the know, I attended an Acid Test in a vintage ex- 
roller rink. We opened some swinging doors and the first thing I saw was Neal Cassidy, 
standing nearby with a microphone in his mouth, having several simultaneous conversations 
with people who weren't there. I backed out of the doors in a hurry, having stumbled onto 
full-out insanity. After a few short look-ins, coming inside briefly but staying near the front 
entrance, I got used to the prevailing madness. I wasn't ready yet to sample the acid Kool- 
Aid, but enjoyed the daring zone of anti-normality, including a slide show by Kesey, 
"America Needs Indians." 

A few months later I went to L.A. for an Acid Test in a large pornography film studio on 
Pico street. In the morning we drove out to the beach, and I saw snowmen on all the lawns 
and an aircraft carrier up ahead of us on the freeway. We collapsed on the sand and woke up 
many hours later, badly sunburned. 

I even had a course or two that I actually enjoyed, with the finish line coming into view. A 
degree in political science is surely a monument to wasted time, but I remember a substantial 
seminar on marxism, and I began to delve more into history, which should have been my 
major all along — a better chance to learn some content. 

In my final term I lucked into a colloquium on the Russian Revolution, taught by none other 
than the head of the provisional government in 1917, Alexander Kerensky. Premier between 
the fall of the Czar in March and the Bolshevik takeover in October, he was now an elderly 

gentleman, his white hair crew-cut. He was also, not too surprisingly, quite passionate about 
his fall from power and the "unprincipled" tactics of his successful rival Lenin. Sitting next to 
him at a screening of Eisenstein's classic silent film, "Ten Days That Shook the World," I 
watched him in profile as much as I watched the film. In a pivotal scene, the crowd breaks 
into the palace; the actor playing Kerensky appears on a grand staircase, first running up and 
then running down, a symbol of his political vacillation in the face of contending social 
forces. Sitting in the dark in early 1966, almost 40 years after that momentous day, Kerensky 
watched, agitated and upset, reliving his own history. 

I graduated at the end of winter term and the April 1 date on my A.B. degree was not 
completely lost on me. By then, the '50s were finally at an end and things were beginning to 
get crazy, especially in the Bay Area. I recall an episode one evening in nearby Menlo Park 
before I left Stanford. In a car with Neal Cassidy and a classmate who was a friend of his, we 
pulled into a gas station, where Neal jumped out to deal with the high-school-age attendant. 
He popped the hood, went around checking the tires, climbed in and out of the car, while 
feverishly bombarding the kid with comments and questions, including a complicated query 
about green stamps (a promotional giveaway of the day). The attendant's mouth was agape 
and he was probably as freaked as I had been upon my first encounter with Cassidy. He 
moved slowly backward, broke into a run, and fled into the night down a side street. Our mad 
driver concluded that green stamps would not be forthcoming and drove off, gasoline on the 

I returned to Oregon and got a job washing dishes in a big retirement complex near Portland. 
With the troop buildup in Vietnam heading toward half a million, the draft was nailing 
everyone in sight. Without my student deferment, it was clear that official greetings would be 
in the mail within a month or two. 

No thanks to Stanford, I'd become increasingly aware of the repressive and destructive nature 
of the reigning system, and was by now totally opposed to the Vietnam war. Two friends and 
I pledged that we'd go to Mexico together should we pass the draft board physical. 

At the Selective Service center in Portland that spring of 1966, the three of us were more than 
a little worked up. In fact, I'd gotten drunk and overturned my VW into a ditch a few nights 
before. Luckily, the passengers and myself were not injured. 

John and I played the physical as a kind of psychodrama, with emphasis on the psycho. John 
as a crazed, manic weirdo, me as a virtually catatonic weirdo. (In less than a year the 
induction centers would be a lot more wised up to such fakery.) Ken, who'd had a tree fall on 
his foot, breaking most of its bones, was fairly quickly sent home. "You can't march on that. 
Just have your doctor send us the x-rays," the Army examiner said. Guess who, some months 
later and unbeknownst to John and me, ended up in Vietnam. 

With a permanent deferment, I promptly returned to California and got a job at the Shell Oil 
refinery in Martinez, just north of Berkeley. But the work ranged from generally boring to 
occasionally dangerous, and in a few months I headed for the Haight-Ashbury. 

At this point I need to explicitly restrict the scope of this mini-memoir, because I can't see 
another way forward with it. In the interest of protecting the privacy of others, this account 

will avoid most personal relationships. I'll skirt the pitfalls of saying too little or too much 
about others — and, I must admit, the pitfall of how to honestly acquit myself in an area of 
great importance. Certain people have meant a lot to me personally, and still do. 

1966 was the banner year for the fabled Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. On 
block after square block, suddenly there were hippies everywhere. LSD, free rock music, 
instant camaraderie.... A new scene was booming, change was definitely in the air. People 
were partying and laughing at the old world. Kesey and the Pranksters had moved up the 
Peninsula from the Stanford environs; Kesey had been busted twice for pot and failed to 
appear in court. Conforming to the spirit of the Haight, he would appear in adjacent Golden 
Gate Park in outrageous disguises to thumb his nose at the many cops — including FBI — who 
were after him. So many knew it was him, but the heat was in the dark; quite hilarious, even 
though he was caught fairly soon, driving in a car on a Bay Area freeway. 

Dropouts were arriving from all over and the place was becoming quite the exotic tourist 
attraction. A showdown of sorts came on Easter weekend, 1967. City Hall decided that bus 
service was to be diverted from Haight Street to the streets on either side of it, apparently to 
better accommodate the almost bumper-to-bumper traffic of "straights" driving through to 
gawk at the colorful inhabitants. It was pretty clear that the choice was to acquiesce to this 
policy or to defend the Haight as a liberated zone. 

Only a handful of us showed up to block traffic and oppose the increased-traffic plan. 
Hippies, then as now, proved passive rather than resistant, and the fate of the 'hood was 
sealed. The heyday of Haight-Ashbury was over, and in rather short order a joyful, expansive 
spirit was replaced by a large-scale "back to the land" retreat and a sharp rise in the use of 
non-psychedelic hard drugs among those remaining. Berkeley, on the other hand, was still 
coming on, as a very politicized center of anti-war organizing and other increasingly militant 
directions. In late summer '66 I got arrested at a big, stupid "civil disobedience" anti-war 
demo and spent 15 days in the Contra Costa County jail. This was the first and last time I was 
lame enough to present myself to be arrested. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before the end of the year, I'd run out of money and taken a 
job as a public welfare caseworker for the City and County of San Francisco. At age 23, 1 
was still just beginning to think about how the world ran and what I could do about it. The 
four years I spent at the Department of Social Services were to prove, as they say, a learning 

In fact, an experience of some consequence happened soon after I took the job. I happened to 
work in the vicinity of a guy who was about to retire — a quiet old lifer named Donnelly 
who'd never uttered a peep against the workings of the welfare system. At ten minutes to 
5:00 p.m. on his very last day, he was given the boot. Incredible as it sounds, the downtown 
brass fired him at the last moment, so as to avoid paying his retirement pension. 

Not too surprisingly, there was an enormous uproar. It was an unbelievable outrage, 
especially now that "the Sixties" — that part of the decade that tried to count for something — 
was now showing up. The union, a local of the Services Employees International (SEIU), 
always beloved by liberals, said that nothing could be done, and refused to make any effort 

on Donnelly's behalf. This was a classic instance of the collusion and corruption of unions in 

Virtually overnight, an independent union was formed. A militant, do-it-yourself outfit, hated 
by Organized Labor as much as by City Hall. It was exciting and instructive to be a part of 
this wide-open experiment in radical democracy. We decided against having any paid 
organizers or officers, and rejected signing any contract with the City and County. 
Membership would be strictly voluntary, ruling out the possibility of a "closed shop" 
arrangement in which union dues become an automatic paycheck deduction. I served as vice- 
president in 1967 and president in 1968. Our union — sedately named the Social Services 
Employees Union — came to encourage members to invent positions according to their 
agitational interests and then "run" for election to the new positions as a kind of ratifying 
process. Dues were whatever amount an individual chose to contribute. SSEU militants drew 
up an organizers' manual intended to encourage a prairie fire of constant challenges to the 
authority of the welfare bureaucracy. Workers — caseworkers, clerks, public hospital 
employees — were invited, for example, to file endless grievances, through a process designed 
to spread participation with unlimited assistance and open testimony. All negotiations were 
designed to be transparent, with every concession merely an opening to further demands. We 
constantly exposed the logic of public policy as repressive control of poor people, and the 
police role of Organized Labor in its parallel control of employees. 

Early on, we held a public meeting with Emmet Grogan and the Diggers, to explore possible 
common round in the area of radically-based social services. But we found very little 
commonality. Our organizing-on-the-job approach didn't appeal to the Diggers, who were 
free-wheeling drop-outs. 

The ultimate goal was to destabilize the system from the inside and to achieve an alliance 
between welfare workers and welfare recipients. We failed, misreading our possibilities for 
spontaneous action in general and our role as paid agents of government in particular. A rare 
example of connection occurred when the bureaucracy tried to fire a very active union 
militant. Scores of public assistance clients showed up at City Hall and turned the tide, saving 
Charley's job. But without an explicit critique of the overall setup, SSEU was fated to play a 
reformist, if noisy part; similarly, there was no convincing reason why our welfare clients 
should find themselves working with us. 

But for a time, we felt we'd discovered a liberating "third way," steering between an 
inherently complicit unionism and the various groupings of authoritarian marxism, so 
prevalent in the '60s. Journalists would get the word and excitedly write feature stories about 
our experimental effort. Not a single story was published, however, demonstrating what we 
saw as a kind of contemporary fascism. Government, unions, and business united against this 
kind of independent activity. We tried to spread our little contagion to other, mainly white- 
collar workplaces, and did get asked for organizing advice. A couple of times, the Black 
Panthers sought our help in terms of members who drove buses and cable cars. For all the 
Panthers' militant courage in the streets, they were at a loss in terms of protecting themselves 
on the job. All these experiences tended to encourage our workerist illusions. 

SSEU was what I mainly did from late 1966 to early 1971, with occasional weekend rioting 
across the Bay in Berkeley during '68 and '69. As time went on in the Department of Social 

Services, my (unpaid, of course) union role more and more outstripped my caseworker role, 
and organizing began to feel problematic in itself. I was increasingly bothered by what 
seemed like a fatal flaw inherent in the organizing mode. I still feel that organizing entails 
trying to get people to do things without fully revealing the program, vision, or agenda that's 
behind the organizing. Of course, if there's no transcendent radical orientation and goal 
behind the effort, then it's just reform, pure and simple. But if there is a radical goal, more or 
less hidden, then how can the organizing activity not be seen as inherently manipulative? 

During most of this period, it had seemed to me that unless one had a job there could be no 
leverage on society. Action in the streets, however militant and dangerous, was misplaced, 
could not have much effect. But this outlook was losing its appeal for me. Transparency was 
becoming a more important factor, as I thought about ways to try to overturn the dominant 
order. In this sense, some of the ideas of the Situationists had a big effect on my thinking, 
from the time I first learned about them, around 1970. Their no-holds-barred critiques of the 
many varieties of leftism appealed to me in a big way. I was never in full accord with all their 
theses, but the non-manipulative, up-front quality of the Sits was instantly refreshing. 

The radical, often visionary outlook of the Situationist International did not, alas, reach the 
U.S. (and the West coast in particular) in time to influence "The Movement" much at all. 
Similarly, the radical women's movement didn't arrive until 1969, too late to have a chance 
to deepen and enlighten the '60s. As for the anarchists, I'm not aware that they played more 
than a very slight role. Anarchists seemed pretty invisible, their activities usually confined to 
the archaic, mini-bureaucratic realm of the IWW. These anarcho-syndicalists were 
characteristically uncritical of unionism, the prevailing leftism, and other impediments to 
revolution. They seemed virtually unaware of the global wave of opposition during the '60s. 

In the early 1970s I took notice of how much organizing I'd been doing and also, how much 
writing. The writing was mostly about the deeply collaborationist nature of unions, their key 
role in a state/business/organized labor system that is designed to freeze out independent, 
potentially radical modes of activity. Mainly via their legally binding labor-management 
contracts and strictly bureaucratic structures, unions enforce and legitimate the conditions 
and the very existence of wage labor. Coinciding with the height of my interest in this subject 
arose a much-publicized "revolt against work" phenomenon. Suddenly a spate of articles 
appeared that acknowledged widespread absenteeism, employee turnover, sabotage, drug use 
on the job, wildcat strikes, etc. A kind of non-political or underground resistance seemed to 
have replaced the public radicalism of the '60s. A more explicit kind of underground 
opposition was also present at this time, exemplified by groups like the Black Liberation 
Army and Weather Underground. 

In early 1971 I began graduate studies in U.S. history at San Francisco State, earning an M.A. 
degree the following year. This was chiefly a way to pursue my research/ writing interests 
and to indulge my own aversion to work. "Organized Labor and the Revolt Against Work" 
was published in a 1973 issue of the radical theory journal Telos. 

After a month or so in Europe, I enrolled at the University of Southern California in the fall 
of '72. This mediocre place was adequate for my purposes, and it was primarily my own 
labor studies/social control topics that I pursued there until 1975. Approaching the 
completion of a Ph.D. program and having never intended to become a professor, it was time 

to move on. During the last two years at USC I had been a teaching assistant, a job whose 
light duties offered free tuition and office space. In fact, my failure to be properly obsequious 
in the feudal game of prostrating oneself before an all-powerful doctoral committee of 
"superiors" had placed me increasingly on their shit list, as I discovered. Just before I took 
the two weeks of written qualifying exams required for Ph.D. candidacy, I was told that my 
assistantship would not be renewed for the following year. Every professor I'd worked for 
had allegedly had problems with me. Since none of them had every expressed dissatisfaction 
to me personally, I concluded that this move was simply intended to mess me up during the 
exams that were to commence the next day. I passed the exams and resigned, expressing my 
contempt in a flippant postcard to the chairman of my committee. 

There was a little problem of about $13,000 (mainly in student loans), but at that time debt 
could be disposed of easily. With the help of some kind of "people's law services" in Echo 
Park, I filed for bankruptcy on the entire amount. Redfaced with anger, the judge demanded 
to know what would happen if everyone were to do the same, what of the deserving poor, etc. 
We both knew he had no choice but to sign away what I owed. In the elevator going 
downstairs from the courtroom, my people's lawyer expressed some agreement with the 
judge's attitude. If there had been any doubt, that remark made it a certainty that he wasn't 
going to be paid either. 

So ended three years in L.A. Returning to San Francisco in 1975, it was clear that the days of 
contestation were not only gone, but were unlikely to return anytime soon. I continued to 
publish in Telos off an on during the '70s, and thanks to Fredy Perlman I discovered and 
began a relationship with Fifth Estate of Detroit before the end of '75. Writing, drinking a lot, 
getting by on short-term jobs, unemployment benefits, a few small-time scams. 

I was also thinking about what the '60s meant — how far the movement did and didn't go, 
why it ended — questions along those lines. My work had become more history- and theory- 
oriented, as can happen when contemporary reality becomes less promising. Exploring the 
roots of unionism, I discovered the luddite revolts and delved into early industrial capitalism. 
The idea that the factory system arose in large part to corral and subdue a dispersed and 
autonomous population was a big revelation, and led to further questions about technology. If 
a mode of production initiated in the late 18th century had, built-in, a social control 
intentionality, where else was this kind of dimension also present? I began to consider that 
perhaps technology is never neutral, that it expresses or embodies the values desired by a 
dominant group. 

1977 was the year of the original punk rock explosion in San Francisco, imported from its 
birth in the U.K. about a year earlier. No one thought its vehemence was the rebirth of the 
'60s, but it occasioned an exciting outburst of nihilist energy. Punk might be thought of as a 
kind of aftershock of the '60s quake, although many punkers were explicitly contemptuous of 
that earlier scene (especially of hippies). The first blast of raw, angry punk was bracing as 
hell, and some went further than music performance. For instance, a small bunch went up to 
Pacific Heights more than once to bash new Mercedes, BMWs, and the like with chains and 
metal bars. More characteristic, of course, were the drug O.D.s that occurred all along, even 
during the 1977 heyday, as well as later. 

By early '78 the initial rush was over, particularly for the more political types like myself 
who secretly hoped that punk might actually re-ignite significant resistance. Sixties illusions 
and groundless idealism were effectively dead and the new defiance of punk went deeper, 
even with its cynical overlay. Or so it seemed for a season. 

By this time alcohol had become a serious problem for me, adversely affecting my 
relationships (that's putting it euphemistically) and bringing the writing pretty much to a 
stop. At the end of the decade I'd been kicked out of a group household for stupid, drunken 
behavior and was living with some illegals in a Mission district flat furnished with broken 
castoffs. I suppose the latter was appropriate, given that I'd helped burn the furniture where I 
lived before, for no known reason. During the next couple of years I routinely drank myself 
into blackout states, with killer hangovers and zero memory of the nights before. My only 
steady income came from selling my plasma twice a week. 

Meanwhile, San Francisco was becoming less and less tolerable. Both the rents and the 
number of insane people wandering the streets were on the rise. So many people in the Bay 
Area, but no-one, apparently, fighting the ugly, lying system. My friend Joe was doing a life 
term at Folsom, and I was never far from feelings of impotent rage over that. In an evasive 
effort to curb my drinking I ended up completely hooked on tranquilizers, needing more and 
more of them and still not drinking less. In short, I was a mess. 

In March 1981, 1 moved back to Oregon. In the Portland Greyhound station I saw a crowd 
gathering around a black man who was holding a very small portable TV and chuckling. The 
news was coming in that Reagan had been shot. Nearby, a contingent of Oregon State 
University students were preparing to board their bus to Corvallis. I could hear outright 
laughter and joking about the shooting among members this group. They were bound for a 
campus known as fairly conservative, at a moment when it wasn't clear whether Reagan was 
dead or alive. 

That spring and summer I worked in Newport, on Oregon's central coast, first at a shrimp 
cannery and then as a waiter. One weekend some friends from Seattle visited me and a stray 
comment, not pursued at the time, registered and got under my skin. As we drove to a lake to 
go swimming, someone said, "I don't think the term revolution has meaning anymore." My 
unspoken reaction was twofold: I didn't like hearing that, and I knew for some reason that it 
was true. 

As noted above, I'd already been doing some historical exploring of the role of technology in 
society. My friend's comment deepened the questioning and also brought contemporary 
radical practice into my research. His remark implied that the efforts of the '60s just weren't 
deeply oriented enough to have qualified as liberatory. "Revolution" now seemed inadequate, 
and I was challenged by the question of what would go far enough. 

Back in Los Angeles, in the mid-'70s, I had put out flyers that sported the name "Upshot" 
and an Echo Park P.O. box address. This was influenced by our SSEU habit of daily 
agitational leaflets, and by critiques that the Situationists embodied in their pamphlets. 
Sometimes one or two other people helped with the Upshot flyers, and the practice had 
persisted in San Francisco during the second half of the decade. I resumed creating flyers on 
my own after moving to Eugene in the fall of 1981. 

Library facilities at the University of Oregon constituted the main reason for the move, the 
better to pursue answers to various questions about the depth of alienated society and what a 
dis-alienated world might consist of. On a more prosaic level, my main source of income 
continued to be twice-weekly visits to the local plasma center. My own alienation was 
underlined as I stood in line early one morning waiting for the center to open. A woman in an 
expensive car, stopped at a traffic light, looked at our disreputable ranks with evident disgust. 
I remember feeling pleased to be standing where I was, not part of the terrorized-by- 
consumer-goods class. 

The early '80s were a take-off point for high-tech developments, especially computerization 
in general, and the appearance of personal computers in particular. New and grandiose 
predictions from the Artificial Intelligence people seemed emblematic of a new stage of 
estrangement and dehumanization, succinctly expressed by AI pioneer Marvin Minsky's 
pronouncement that "the brain is a three-pound computer made of meat." It was hard not to 
notice that social existence was being rapidly technified as a key part of growing 
estrangement. We were becoming more and more separated from the natural world, each 
other, and even our own experience. 

It began to occur to me that the sense of time, and time as a cultural dimension, were 
fundamental to the development of this massive alienation. I spent most of 1982 exploring 
time as a fairly exact measure of alienation, appearing and developing in tandem with it. 
According to anthropologists, humans once lived in the present, with little or no 
consciousness of that very elusive thing we call time. How is it that we are now so ruled by 
time, as some kind of external, almost palpable presence over our consciousness? Time 
seems to be the first form of estrangement. The separation from the now that has grown so 
markedly that our lives are much more past and future than present to us. 

When I didn't have to work, the U of O library was my haunt, seven days a week at times. At 
this time I began to see what a paradigm shift had occurred, during the past couple of 
decades, in how anthropologists and archaeologists viewed the state of humankind before 
agriculture. Though Homo species had been around for more than two million years, the 
"breakthrough" had happened only 10,000 years ago, with the domestication of animals and 
plants. And the overall picture of humans before agriculture had long portrayed a precarious, 
violent, benighted existence. Outside of civilization (which quickly followed once we had 
achieved domestication), life had been, in Hobbes' famous dictum, "nasty, brutish, and 

The new view is a virtual reversal of that general outlook. The literature and its supporting 
evidence have established gatherer-hunter human life— 99 percent of our span as Homo — as 
one of ample leisure time, no organized violence, a strong degree of gender autonomy and 
equality, and healthy, varied, robust lives. In broadest overview, this is what is taught now in 
Anthropology 101. Scholars who used to ask, "Why did it take our ancestors so long to adopt 
agriculture?" now wonder, "Why did they ever do it?" 

We've always known what followed the trading in of a foraging lifeway for that of farming: 
war, private property, subjugation of women, ecological destruction, and the state, to name a 
few results. Now we see what preceded it and what a horrible bargain it was, and continues to 

be. The logic of domestication is ever clearer, as civilization demonstrates its destructive 
impacts on every level from the personal to the biospheric. 

Five years of the 1980s were taken up with essays on time, language, number, art, and 
agriculture, published in Fifth Estate. They all deal with origins of our present imprisonment, 
whose foundation may be traced to the intertwined advance of division of labor and symbolic 
culture, leading to and extending domestication. These explorations were published in 
Elements of Refusal (Seattle: Left Bank Books, 1988) and are much of the basis for Future 
Primitive (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1994). 

In the mid- '80s "Upshot" became "Anti- Authoritarians Anonymous," flyers and posters by 
Dan and myself. In that era of retrenchment and reaction, almost no radical activity could be 
found. We had to content ourselves with cultural critique, often employing the detouring of 
ads and other public images, and ridiculing the pious nonsense of the local pacifists. We 
didn't exactly rouse the populace to insurrection, but it was nice to find out that our 
broadsides came to adorn a few folks' walls. 

Quiet times, but in addition to writing projects and the AAA flyers I enjoyed a growing and 
far-flung correspondence. Thanks to wonderful Alice, I was able to stop the alcohol abuse. It 
was also good to come to have a closer tie with my family, beginning about this time. Not 
only just the moving back to Oregon in 1981, but especially a rapprochement with my 
conservative father. He'd been burned by Nixon's Watergate debacle and more or less 
concluded that the political system — including Social Security — didn't have much of a 
future. He was now less inclined to condemn my shirker, non-commercially- viable ways. 
Some do "mellow with age," and it was apparent that he enjoyed my visits. In the '90s it 
would also be evident, to dust off another cliche, that the child becomes parent to the parents. 
My sister, living next door to them, a hundred miles closer, shouldered far more of the 
responsibility for them in their last years. But a basically close family drew closer, and after 
our parents' deaths my sister and I have drawn still nearer each other. 

If the first half of the 1960s are more properly thought of as part of the dreaded Fifties, the 
first half of the '90s belonged to the dead zone of the preceding decade. These were the years 
of Milli Vanilli, the Waco inferno, Kurt Cobain's suicide, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the 
high-water mark of postmodern cynicism and collaboration. There was also the L.A. rising in 
1992, and the end of Apartheid in South Africa the year before, but overall American life 
seemed to embody the continuing stasis of a too-slowly rotting culture. The fall of the state 
capitalist Soviet Union in 1990 gave market capitalism a boost toward a more global, closed 
system. The penetration of capital into new spheres of daily life paralleled a colonization that 
was being speeded up all over the world with technology, as ever, its close partner. Not only 
do Cyberspace and Virtual Reality express avoidance and denial in terms of what was and is 
being obliterated of nature and direct experience. They also represent new realms for 
domination itself. A growing misogyny is perhaps the ugliest, worsening aspect of a society 
that is becoming increasingly separated from the authenticity of direct accountability. 

In the mid- '90s the wind began to turn and instances of resistance cropped up, including the 
dramatic appearance of the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico and the seemingly 
unstoppable "Unabomber" attacks on various people bringing on the Brave New World. 

I'd moved across town in '83 from the University area to the Whiteaker, Eugene's oldest and 
only diverse neighborhood. In fact, I've lived on or within a half block of 4th and Adams, 
and have been part of a 22-household housing co-op there since late 1987. The fact that it is 
essentially run by women is such a big plus in terms of meetings and other interactions — the 
main reason, it occurs to me, why I've stayed involved for so long. 

Nearby, Icky's Tea House (1993-97) was the site of the first stirrings of resistance in the 
'hood. Aside from some of the frequent punk music shows there, virtually everything was 
free, including a bike repair corral, lending library, and weekly film evenings. Copwatch was 
born there, and a benefit for Ted Kaczynski was held in May, 1996. Icky's was an anti- 
commercial haven for various folks who didn't feel at home in the prevailing work-pay-die 
ethos. The cops increasingly harassed the place, aided decisively by a local liberal columnist 
and the liberal owner of a neighborhood natural food grocery. The latter campaigned 
furtively to pressure the building's owner to sever Icky's lease and to cause the last-minute 
veto of a grant from a church. Good ol' Icky's went under after four years, victim of the 
surrounding pig culture and some of its enforcers. 

The Unabomber became very big news in 1995, following his last fatal parcel. It had been 
sent to Gilbert Murray of Sacramento, head of public relations for the clear-cutting of the 
remaining forests in the Western states. The New York Times determined that my writings 
were quite similar to the critique of technology ideas being expressed in Unabomber public 
statements. I agreed to talk with a reporter about the nature of technology, its deeply negative 
logic, etc. The result was a longish, early May piece in the Times that ended the obscurity in 
which I'd operated. 

The authorities' futile efforts to end the by-then seventeen-year stretch of bombings by the 
Unabomber (a name jointly conferred by the FBI and the media) made headlines in the 
summer of '95. 1 got the impression that I was among the suspects that season when my mail 
was interfered with for some weeks, and my house was burglarized. Several letters that I 
knew were sent to me never arrived, and the break-in resulted in the removal of only two 
items: my address book and a pair of fairly old sneakers. 

In the fall the Washington Post published "Industrial Society and its Future," the so-called 
"Unabomber Manifesto." In essence, the essay demonstrates that the progress of 
technological society means less and less freedom and fulfillment for the individual. Federal 
authorities recommended the release of this extremely cogent 30,000-word treatise, following 
its author's promise to suspend his bombing campaign if it was made widely available. Ted 
Kaczynski' s brother David snitched on him to the FBI after noting strong similarities 
between Ted's writings and "Industrial Society"; he was arrested in April '96 at his tiny 
Montana cabin. 

Our correspondence soon commenced and I first visited him, at the Sacramento County Jail, 
one year later. There were no fewer than three members of his legal team present at our visit, 
and enroute I was asked to try to persuade him to accept their version of an insanity defense. 
Amazed at such a request, I ignored it. Between April '97 and Ted's sentencing in May 1998, 
we had four encounters. I would take the overnight AMTRAK and go to his Federal 
Defenders' offices for a legal escort to the jail. Ted's lawyers, headed by Quinn Denvir and 
Judy Clarke, told me that a lawyer's presence was necessary to secure the privacy of visits. 

Only later it became clear that the primary consideration wasn't so much to make sure that 
we couldn't be overheard by the authorities as it was for the lawyers to monitor and police 
our interactions. 

I found Kaczynski very sharp and unassuming, with a sense of humor. His comments and 
questions always seemed appropriate and spontaneous, though at times he could be a bit 
formal. Facing the death penalty and always with legal accompaniment, the situation in terms 
of visits wasn't ideal for free and relaxed communication. But it wasn't only our similar ideas 
about technology that made for some pre-established rapport. Although we discussed very 
little about our family histories, we shared some personal background that probably 
contributed to our speaking a common language. Of Slavic heritage, we'd both grown up in 
the pro-math and science Sputnik era and as kids made bombs with our chemistry sets. We 
were bright achievers who later turned our backs on academe, pursuing "independent study." 
In fact, we each had younger brothers who were social workers, and fathers who succumbed 
to cancer. 

During the summer of '97, with Ted's trial set to begin in the fall, I began to feel some of the 
mounting pressure. More than obviously, the real heat was on him; but quite willingly, I'd 
gotten pulled into the pre-trial drama — without benefit of being really included. With a 
stroke, it seemed, the Unabomber critique had opened a new era of possibility, and this was 
and is of enormous importance to me. More to the point, there was a specific life on the line, 
a person I was getting to know, involving a heavy emotional identification. My problem was 
that I was in the dark as to what role I really had in his defense. At times it seemed that he 
was relying on me for something, but weeks of silence might follow an intense letter, with 
occasional, but sometimes cryptic phone calls from his lawyers, which never clarified things. 

A related frustration had to do with the desire a few of us had to try to campaign on his 
behalf, mainly by drawing attention to the cogent ideas of "Industrial Society and its Future." 
Lydia in Boston had used a semi-serious "Unabomber for President" effort in '96 to draw 
attention to critical Unabomber theses, and a scattered handful of us were in touch, wanting 
to expand pro-Ted efforts. The defense attorneys had made it clear that they were opposed to 
politicizing the case, as if that dimension of it wasn't already entirely obvious. So I saw Ted 
in August and made the pitch for his permission to go ahead in that direction. His response, 
not what we'd hoped to hear, echoed the larger dilemma of the case. He said something like, 
"Wow, that sounds good. I hope you can persuade my lawyers!" 

Jury selection began in November, and when Ted entered the courtroom for the first time he 
nodded to me, precipitating a minor stampede of reporters my way during morning recess. 
"Who are you?" "Do you know Kaczynski?" etc. I said nothing and was shielded by a junior 
member of the legal team, my anonymity remaining intact. Through the second floor window 
of the Sacramento federal courthouse, I looked out on a block-long row of press tents and 
satellite dishes of the national and international press corps. 

A flurry of expected motions and counter-motions next brought the trial itself into view as 
the end of 1997 loomed. December revealed the essence of what had been going on behind 
the scenes for some time, ably told, by the way, in Bill Finnegan's March 16, 1998 New 
Yorker article, "Defending the Unabomber." Ted's federal defender lawyers were anti-death 
penalty liberals, whose entire focus was saving his life. It seems that the feds had promptly 

reneged on the FBI promise of a year and a half earlier to David Kaczynski (dubbed "the 
Unasquealer" by David Letterman), to not seek the death penalty if he would betray his 
brother. In pursuit of their objective the lawyers finessed Kaczynski along, keeping him in 
the dark by controlling all access to outside reality and denying that they were really 
fashioning an insanity defense. That they were lying to him began to become quite apparent 
when their almost daily comments to the press belied this entirely, while he was doing 
everything he could to prove his sanity and thus the meaning or necessity of the Unabomber 
actions. Ted's lawyers, by this point, were constantly portraying their client to the reporters 
as delusional and paranoid schizophrenic. 

Into January the defense strategy was rather openly a race to the wire, the lawyers' effort to 
hold onto an insanity orientation up to the decisive point in the trial before Kaczynski figured 
out what they were really doing in his name. By this time, various media types could see 
what was happening. Before each day's proceedings some of them would even call out 
cynical taunts to Denvir and Clarke: "Got control of him?" One could see their anger, as 
illusions faded away. Judge Burrell made it clear that he saw Ted as quite sane, offering his 
judgment on one occasion, in camera, that the attorney's client had a better grasp of the case 
than they did. 

Finally it began to dawn on Kaczynski that the lawyers had not been truthful, and he started 
to rethink his trusting reliance on them. I had been loathe to volunteer my impressions and 
doubts, which admittedly had been slow in forming. And mail to Ted was always routed 
through his lawyers' office; by this time I suspected that they were keeping some letters from 
him. As with visits, the mail needed the legal transit for "security reasons"; this guaranteed 
the lawyers' control over what Ted could discuss or read. 

He now phoned me on occasion, mainly to ask me to help him connect with radical San 
Francisco lawyer Tony Serra, though he was hesitant about firing the lawyers he'd depended 
upon for so long. Serra told me to let Ted know that it was urgent for him to fire the lawyers; 
the time to make such a move was running out. Serra' s office set up a 24-hour phone line to 
receive word from me about what Ted decided, in case he couldn't communicate directly. 

In mid-January 1998, the clock did indeed run out for Ted. He tried to sack his lawyers in 
favor of Serra, and when that was denied asked to be permitted to represent himself. The 
judge ruled that it was too late for either course, and further decreed that the trial would go 
forth not only with his present representation, but also with their insanity argument as his 

What Ted most feared had come to pass: he and his thinking would be portrayed to the world 
as crazy. After a failed suicide attempt, he accepted a plea agreement of life in prison for an 
admission of guilt. Further humiliation was avoided and his life was spared, at the cost of not 
being allowed to establish that he was not a madman. 

In terms of my own minor role in all this, something happened about a month earlier that 
"outed" me a good deal more than the May '95 New York Times article had done. At the 
beginning of December, Ted asked me to arrange for Christine Craft to visit him. She was a 
writer for the Sacramento Weekly who had been in court every day and whose accounts, 
often critical of the way the defendant was being treated, impressed him. 

I called and got her excited assent to the prospect of a visit. I told her to contact the Federal 
Defenders office if her name wasn't on his visitors' list at the jail, and that they would assist 
her. She got a runaround for days going into weeks and finally received the word that the 
lawyers weren't going to permit her to see Ted. Of course, this was transpiring as the 
attorneys focused on holding in place their deception concerning the insanity plea, at a 
critical juncture in the proceedings. They weren't about to let her possibly blow their control 
over him via his direct access to media. 

Christine was phoning me several nights a week to recount her frustration, while at the same 
time the lawyers were working hard to poison Ted's opinion of her. They portrayed her as a 
scheming, publicity-seeking snoop with no legitimate interest in him. 

Late in the month when it had been made clear that no visit was going to happen, Ms. Craft 
decided to do a story anyway and tell, among other things, her tale of being denied the 
chance to speak with Ted Kaczynski. I felt, as Ted had initially, that she was a very fair- 
minded, responsible individual and that she was obviously entitled to do a piece on what had 
been going on. But she needed to be able to include the part about being invited to see him, 
how that came about. This included me, and meant that her end-of-December Sacramento 
Weekly article brought a deluge of media attention my way. Having really very few other 
connections to Kaczynski, journalists flocked to my house and phoned at all hours for a 
while. I didn't talk to any of them until the plea agreement was reached a month later. 

Several months previously I had arranged, through the Cultural Forum of the Associated 
Students of the University of Oregon, to give a talk on campus in late January 1998. It turned 
out that the event took place just a few days after the front page news of the plea agreement. 
During those few days Fd talked with media folks locally, which brought major free 
publicity to the talk and necessitated two successive changes to larger-capacity campus 

More than 500 people showed up for my comments on the nature and direction of 
technology. It's possible that some were disappointed by my avoidance of any "What's the 
Unabomber really like?"-type material. However, I ended the speech with the suggestion that 
there might be a parallel between Kaczynski and John Brown. Brown made an anti-slavery 
attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1859. Like Kaczynski, Brown 
was considered deranged, but he was tried and hung. Not long afterward he became a kind of 
American saint of the abolitionist movement. I offered the hope, if not the prediction, that 
T.K. might at some point also be considered in a more positive light for his resistance to 
industrial civilization. During the question-and-answer period, a Native American woman 
and a teenage boy each expressed their respect and admiration for Kaczynski. 

The best thing about this campus presentation was that it prompted two young anarchists to 
visit me some time later. Icky's was no more, but a new, militant presence was soon at work. 
Overall, 1998 would see an awakening that continues to grow, and has seemed especially 
pronounced in Eugene and the Whiteaker neighborhood in particular. 

Various repressive responses were soon felt. In fact, they had begun in the neighborhood the 
preceding fall, when the City closed Scobert Park, ignoring a rough consensus that the 
community had arrived at through a series of open meetings. The little park was entirely 

fenced off, but opposition swiftly appeared. Along with signs and banners and folks doing a 
sleep-in, the fence disappeared during its first night on duty around the park. In the morning 
it was replaced, and the next night it was once again removed. This went on for a few days 
until the City gave up. Victory for the neighborhood! 

Summer of '98 saw local government attempt to cut down about 30 old maple trees along 
three blocks in the heart of the Whiteaker. This decimation of the area's loveliest feature 
would have been a demoralizing blow. At the same time, in a series of secret meetings, a 
move was underway to bring the federal "Weed and Seed" program to our hotbed of 
emerging resistance and alternative ways. "Weed and Seed" offers federal money to poor 
locales in return for permission to crack down on any and all "law-breakers": weed out the 
bad elements and get seed funds for, say, a community center. Both of these challenges to the 
integrity of the neighborhood were loudly rebuffed in no uncertain terms by the solidarity of 
the residents who would have been affected. 

In other words, the resurfacing of opposition to business as usual was met early on by various 
efforts at counter-attack. But a renewed social movement was quickly developing, and in its 
militancy was adopting radically new tactics. 

In October '98 an anti-Nike demonstration crossed the line from respectful symbolic protest 
to a real, non-legal act. To draw attention to Nike's already notorious use of sweatshop labor, 
a standard march and picket at the local outlet proceeded as usual, but the event soon took on 
a different character. Several people, masked up and wearing black, entered the store and 
trashed it by breaking a few items and throwing apparel out the door into a fountain below. A 
bold departure from the old gestures that never seem to show contempt for basics of the 
work/consume/destroy nature treadmill. 

In fact, night-time property damage was fast asserting itself and raising the ante of discussion 
in Eugene. Targets of political vandalism in the Whiteaker included a natural foods store 
whose owner worked overtime to close Icky's Teahouse, the van owned by a cop residing in 
the neighborhood, and a yuppie restaurant, which to many represented an opening wedge to 
gentrification (higher rent for poor people). The last place closed after a steady pattern of 
graphic, hostile acts. 

Property destruction, mainly broken windows and spray-painted graffiti, was hotly debated at 
first but has become more widely accepted and even espoused as a necessary tactic. The same 
shift has occurred in terms of increasingly militant tactics, seen as a needed escalation against 
an all-destructive global system of capital and technology. Those of us who know that the 
reigning setup must be stopped and dismantled have for some time pushed for substantive 
resistance, and it has certainly grown. From Seattle '99 to Prague 2000, Quebec City 2001 
and beyond, a strong resolve is in evidence, with "black bloc" and like-minded militancy. 

The new level or stage of contestation began to be noticed outside of Eugene. The winter of 
'98-'99 was marked by continued radical efforts, including the birth of the Black-Clad 
Messenger, an enduring publication dedicated to indicting the whole trajectory of 
domination, including its technological and civilization-based logic, and pushing for even 
stronger responses. A June '99 Wall Street Journal article called "Disaffected Youth Dust off 

a Combustible Philosophy" was a lengthy and scurrilous smear-job, full of inaccuracies, that 
sought to put the heat on us. 

But before the month was out, the spirit of anarchy in Eugene delivered a counter-blow that 
significantly exceeded what had already gone on. "Reclaim the Streets" on June 18 was a day 
of worldwide anti-capitalist demonstrations, whose high point occurred in London as 
thousands occupied part of the city center and disrupted the stock exchange for a few hours. 
The Eugene edition of RTS began (like the smaller Nike affair eight months earlier) as a 
rather standard-issue protest gathering, and took a surprising turn. To sum up, about 200 
people conducted a roaming riot that went on for almost five hours, with banks and other 
businesses damaged and the cops repeatedly in retreat. It was a glorious outburst of energy 
against the Megamachine, although anarchist Rob Thaxton (aka Rob los Ricos), among 18 
arrested, was later sentenced to seven years in prison for hitting a heavily armored cop with a 
rock in defense of himself and a comrade. The anti-World Trade Organization "Battle of 
Seattle" that got the world's attention five months later had been prefigured in the streets of 
little old Eugene, Oregon. 

Meanwhile, of course, a movement that is more and more anarchist in orientation goes 
forward all over the world. And the anarchy scene has itself changed rather fundamentally in 
recent years, away from the traditional, production/progress-embracing outlook, toward the 
primitivist critique or vision and its luddite/feminist/ decentralization/anti-civilization 

Certainly no one knows if the side of life, health, and freedom can prevail against a system 
that has already produced an unprecedented assault on all living beings. The global war on 
outer nature is matched only by the assault, day after day, upon inner nature; but resistance is 
waxing in strength and I am extremely hopeful. Increasingly, people see what is at stake and 
how basic and far-reaching our alternatives need to be. How wonderful it is that after several 
decades, people are rising to the challenge. Nothing is more excellent than to have the 
opportunity to be alive in these days and be a part of a marvelous and necessary effort. 

These remarks, by the way, are in no way comprehensive. They only skim the surface, 
mentioning some highlights and leaving out so much, perhaps especially in terms of the 
richness, diversity, and the conflicts, too, here in the Eugene anarchist community. I will 
leave it to others to fill in the rest, and correct my judgment or emphasis. Our very future 
depends, similarly, upon everyone playing their part and making the difference. In closing, I 
want to express my love to my two daughters. The one I gave so little to but who has never 
cut me off, and the one who adopted me, as undeserving as I am. The healed world awaits us 

by John Zerzan 

Agriculture ended a vast period of human existence largely characterized by freedom 
from work, non-exploitation of nature, considerable gender autonomy and equality, and 
the absence of organized violence. It takes more from the earth than it puts back and is 
the foundation of private property. Agriculture encloses, controls, exploits, establishes 
hierarchy and resentment. Chellis Glendinning (1994) described agriculture as the 
"original trauma" that has devastated the human psyche, social life, and the biosphere. 

But agriculture/domestication didn't suddenly appear out of nowhere, 10,000 years ago. 
Quite possibly, it was the culmination of a very slow acceptance of division of labor or 
specialization that began in earnest in Upper Paleolithic times, about 40,000 years ago. 
This process is behind what Horkheimer and Adorno termed "instrumental reason" in 
their Dialectic of Enlightment. Although still touted as the precondition for "objectivity," 
human reason is no longer neutral. It has somehow become deformed, with devastating 
impact: our reason imprisons our true humanity, while destroying the natural world. How 
else to account for the fact that human activity has become so inimical to humans, as well 
as to all other earthly species? Something had already started to take us in a negative 
direction before agriculture, class stratification, the State, and industrialism 
institutionalized its wrongness. 

This disease of reason, which interprets reality as an amalgamation of instruments, 
resources, and means, adds an unprecedented and uncontrolled measure of domination. 
As with technology, which is reason's incarnation or materiality at any given time, 
reason's "neutrality" was missing from the start. Meanwhile, we are taught to accept our 
condition. It's "human nature" to be "creative," goes part of the refrain. 

Division of labor gives effective power to some, while narrowing or reducing the scope 
of all. This can be seen in the production of art as well as in technological innovation. 
The distinctive work of individual masters is apparent in the earliest cave art, and craft 
specialization is an essential aspect of the later development of "complex" (aka stratified) 
societies. Specified roles facilitated a qualitative rupture with long-standing human social 
patterns, in a remarkably short period of time. After two or three million years of an 
egalitarian foraging (aka hunter-gatherer) mode of existence, in only 10,000 years, the 
rapid descent into a civilized lifeway. Since then, an ever-accelerating course of social 
and ecological destructiveness in every sphere of life. 

It's also remarkable how complete the experience of civilization was from its very first 
stages. K. Aslihan Yener's Domestication of Metal (2000) discusses complex industry in 
civilization's opening act, the Early Bronze Age. She charts the organization and 
management of tin mining and smelting in Anatolia beginning in 8,000 BC. The 
archaeological evidence shows irrefutably that erosion, pollution, and deforestation were 

very significant consequences, as the earliest civilizations laid waste to much of the 
Middle East. 

With civilization, how it is is how it's always been. Russell Hoban's 1980 novel, Riddley 
Walker, provides keen insight into the logic of civilization. What some call Progress, the 
narrator identifies as Power: 

"It come to me then I know it Power dint go away. It ben and it wer and it wud be. It wer 
there and drawing. Power want it you to come to it with Power. Power wantit what ever 
cud happen to happen. Power wantit every thing moving frontways." 

The nature of the civilization project was clear from the beginning. As the swiftly 
arriving product of agriculture, the intensification of domination has been steady and 
sure. It's telling that humans' first monuments coincide with the first signs of 
domestication (R. Bradley in Mither, 1998). The sad linearity of civilization's destruction 
of the natural world has been interrupted only by symptoms of self-destruction in the 
social sphere, in the form of wars. And when we recall with B.D. Smith (1995) that 
domestication is "the creation of a new form of plant and animal," it becomes obvious 
that genetic engineering and cloning are anything but strange aberrations from the norm. 

The contrast with thousands of generations of forager (hunter-gatherer) life is staggering. 
There is no dispute that these ancestors put sharing at the center of their existence. 
Throughout the anthropological literature, sharing and equality are synonymous with the 
forager social organization, characterized as bands of fifty or fewer people. In the 
absence of mediation or political authority, people enjoyed strong expressive bonds face- 
to-face with one another and in intimacy with nature. 

Hewlett and Lamb (2000) explored the levels of trust and compassion in an Aka band of 
foragers in central Africa. The physical and emotional closeness between Aka children 
and adults, they concluded, is closely related to their benign orientation to the world. 
Conversely, Aka people see their environment as generous and supportive, at least in 
part, because of the unrestricted bonds among themselves. Colin Turnbull observed a 
very similar reality among the Mbuti in Africa, who addressed greetings to "Mother 
Forest, Father Forest." 

Agriculture is the founding model for all the systematic authoritarianism that followed, 
certainly including capitalism, and initiating the subjugation of women. Very early 
farming settlements contained "as many as 400 people" (Mithen et al, 2000). We know 
that expanding population was not a cause of agriculture but its result; this suggests a 
basic dynamic of the population problem. It appears that societies organized on a truly 
human scale fell victim to the exigencies of domestication. It may be that we can only 
solve the planet's overpopulation problem by removing the root cause of basic 
estrangement from one another. With the advent of domestication, reproduction was not 
only rewarded economically; it also offered a compensation or consolation for so much 
that had been eradicated by civilization. 

Amid the standardizing, disciplinary effects of today's systems of technology and capital, 
we are subjected to an unprecedented barrage of images and other representations. 
Symbols have largely crowded out everything real and direct, both in the daily round of 
interpersonal interactions and in the accelerating extinction of nature. This state of affairs 
is generally accepted as inevitable, especially since received wisdom dictates that 
symbol-making is the cardinal, defining quality of a human being. We learn as children 
that all behavior, and culture itself, depend on symbol manipulation; this characteristic is 
what separates us from mere animals. 

But a close look at Homo over our many, many millennia challenges the inexorability or 
"naturalness" of the dominance of symbols in our lives today. New discoveries are 
making newspaper headlines with increasing frequency. Archaeologists are finding that 
more than a million years ago, humans were as intelligent as ourselves — despite the fact 
that the earliest evidence to date of symbolic activity (figurines, cave art, ritual artifacts, 
time recordings, etc.) date to only 40,000 years ago or so. People used fire for cooking 
1.9 million years ago; and built and sailed seagoing vessels at least 800,000 years ago! 

These people must have been very intelligent; yet they left no tangible trace of symbolic 
thought until relatively recently. Likewise, although our ancestors of a million years ago 
had the I.Q. to enslave each other and destroy the planet, they refrained from doing so, 
until symbolic culture got going. Civilization advocates are making a concerted effort to 
find evidence of symbol use at a much earlier time, paralleling the unsuccessful effort in 
recent decades to locate evidence that would overturn the new anthropological paradigm 
of pre-agricultural harmony and well being. So far, their searches have not borne fruit. 

There is an enormous time gap between clear signs of mental capacity and clear signs of 
any symbolizing at all. This discrepancy casts serious doubt on the adequacy of a 
definition of humans as essentially symbol makers. The apparent congruence between the 
beginnings of representation and the beginnings of what is unhealthy about our species 
seems even more important. Basic questions pretty much formulate themselves. 

One such question concerns the nature of representation. Foucault argued that 
representation always involves a power relation. There may be a connection between 
representation and the power imbalance that is created when division of labor takes over 
human activity. In a similar vein, it is difficult to see how large social systems could have 
come about in the absence of symbolic culture. At a minimum, they appear to be 

Jack Goody (1997) referred to "the continuing pressure to represent." Along with an 
easily identified impulse to communicate, is there not also something much less positive 
going on? For all those generations before civilization, folks did many things with their 
minds — including communicating — but they didn't get symbolic about it. To re-present 
reality involves a move to a complete, closed system, of which language is the most 
obvious example and perhaps the original instance. Whence this will to create systems, to 
name and to count? Why this dimension that looks suspiciously like instrumental reason, 
with its essentially dominating core? 

Language is routinely portrayed as a natural and inevitable part of our evolution. Like 
division of labor, ritual, domestication, religion? Complete the progression and we see 
that the end of the biosphere and total alienation are likewise "natural" and "inevitable." 
Whether or not there can be a way out of the symbolic order is the pressing question. 

"In the beginning was the Word" — the convening of the symbolic domain. After Eden's 
freedom was revoked, Adam named the animals and the names were the animals. In the 
same way, Plato held that the word creates the thing. There is a moment of linguistic 
agreement, and from then on a categorized frame is imposed on all phenomena. This pact 
attempts to override the "original sin" of language, which is the separation of speech and 
world, words and things. 

Many languages start out rich in verbs, but are gradually undone by the more common 
imperialism of the noun. This parallels the movement to a steadily more reified world, 
focusing on objects and goals at the expense of process. In similar fashion, the vivid 
naturalism of cave art gives way to an impoverished, stylized aesthetic. In both cases, the 
symbolic deal is sweetened by the promise of an enticing richness, but in each case the 
long-term results are deadly. Symbolic modes may begin with some freshness and 
vitality, but eventually reveal their actual poverty, their inner logic. 

The innate sensual acuity of human infants steadily atrophies as they grow and develop in 
interaction with a symbolic culture that continues to infiltrate and monopolize most 
aspects of our lives. A few remnants of the unmediated, the direct still survive. 
Lovemaking, close relationships, immersion in wild nature, and the experience of birth 
and death awaken our senses and our intelligence, stimulating an unaccustomed hunger. 
We long for something other than the meager, artificial world of re-presentation, with its 
second-hand pallor. 

Communication remains open to those invigorating flashes that pass, nonverbally, 
between people. All the crabbed, crimped, conditioned channels might be chucked, 
because we can't live on what's available. As levels of pain, loss, and emptiness rise, the 
reigning apparatus pumps out ever more unsatisfying, unsustaining lies. 

Referring to telepathy, Sigmund Freud wrote in his New Introductory Lectures on 
Psychoanalysis, "One is led to a suspicion that this is the original, archaic method of 
communication." Enculturated down to his toes, Freud didn't celebrate this suspicion, 
and seemed to fear the life force that accompanied such non-cultural dynamics. Laurens 
van der Post (e.g. The Lost World of the Kalahari, 1958) related several firsthand 
observations of telepathic communication, over considerable distances, among the people 
who used to be called "Bushmen." M. Pobers and Richard St. Barbe Baker, also writing 
in the 1950s, witnessed telepathy by indigenous people before they were colonized by 
civilization. I mention this in passing as one glimpse of the reality of the non-symbolic, a 
direct connection that actually existed not long ago, and that could be revived amid the 
ruins of representation. 

Language and art may have originally appeared and united in ritual, a cultural innovation 
intended to bridge a new separation between people and their world. The term "animism" 
is often used, dismissively or even pejoratively, to describe the belief that non-human 
beings and even objects are inhabited by "spirits." Just as the term "anarchism" is a 
summary description of anarchy, a pervasive viewpoint or state of being that rejects 
hierarchy, "animism" fails to capture the transformative quality of a shared awareness. In 
the case of anarchy, there is an awareness that living in equality with other humans 
necessitates the rejection of all forms of domination, including leadership and political 
representation. "Animism" refers to the extension of that awareness to other life forms 
and even to "inanimate" dwellers on the planet such as rocks, clouds, and rivers. The fact 
that there is no word related to animism, analogous to anarchy, is an index of how 
distanced we are from this awareness, in our present state. Green anarchy explicitly states 
that anarchy must embrace the community of living beings, and in this sense takes a step 
toward re-awakening this awareness. 

Did humans lose the awareness of belonging to an earthly community of living beings 
with the advent of domestication, division of labor, and agriculture? The construction of 
monuments and the beginnings of animal and human sacrifice would tend to support this 
hypothesis. Characteristically, the scapegoated victim is held responsible for communal 
misfortune and suffering, while the fundamental reasons for the community's loss go 
unrecognized and unmitigated. Ritual involves "enormous amounts of energy" (Knight in 
Dunbar, Knight and Power, 1999); it is usually loud, multimediated, emotional, and 
redundant, testifying to the felt depth of the underlying crisis. 

The movement from animism to ritual parallels the transformation of small, face-to-face 
groups into large, complex societies. Culture takes over, with specialized professionals in 
charge of the realm of the sacred. The longing for that original feeling of communion 
with other beings and egalitarian intimacy with one's fellow humans can never be 
appeased by ritual activities developed within a hierarchical social system. This tendency 
culminates in the teachings of transcendant religions, that since the meaning of our lives 
has nothing to do with life on earth, we should pin our hopes on a heavenly reward. 
Conversely, as with the Aka and Mbuti described above, feelings of oneness with the 
earth and all its inhabitants, and a sense of the joy and meaningfulness of existence, seem 
to flourish when we humans live in egalitarian, face-to-face groups. 

Returning to language, an agreed-upon banality is that reality is always inherently 
disclosed through language — that in fact reality is decisively mediated by language. 
Postmodernism ups this ante in two ways. Because language is basically a self- referential 
system, PM avers, language cannot really involve meaning. Further, there is only 
language (as there is only civilization); there is no escape from a world defined by 
language games (and domestication). But archaeological and ethnographic evidence 
shows clearly that human life has existed outside representation, and nothing definitively 
precludes humans from living that way again — however devoutly the postmodernists, in 
their accommodation to the system, may pray that this just cannot be. 

The ultimate in representation is the current "society of the spectacle" described so 
vividly by Guy Debord. We now consume the image of living; life has passed into the 
stage of its representation, as spectacle. At the same time that technology offers virtual 
reality to the individual, the ensemble of electronic media creates a virtual community, an 
advanced symbolic state of passive consumption and learned helplessness. 

But the balance sheet for the ruling order shows a mixed forecast. For one thing, 
representation in the political sector is met with skepticism and apathy similar to that 
evinced by representation in general. Has there ever been so much incessant yammer 
about democracy, and less real interest in it? To represent or be represented is a 
degradation, a reduction, both in the sense of symbolic culture and in terms of power. 

Democracy, of course, is a form of rule. Partisans of anarchy should know this, though 
leftists have no problem with governance. Anarcho-syndicalists and other classical 
anarchists fail to question any of the more fundamental institutions, such as division of 
labor, domestication, domination of nature, Progress, technological society, etc. 

To quote Riddley Walker again, as an antidote: "I cud feal some thing growing in me it 
wer like a grean sea surging in me it wer saying, LOSE IT. Saying, LET GO. Saying, 
THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER." The heart of anarchy. 

Heidegger, in Discourse on Thinking, counseled that an attitude of "openness to the 
mystery" promises "a new ground and foundation upon which we can stand and endure in 
the world of technology without being imperiled by it." An anti-authoritarian orientation 
does not consist of this passive attitude, of changing only our consciousness. Instead, 
technology and its accomplice, culture, must be met by a resolute autonomy and refusal 
that looks at the whole span of human presence and rejects all dimensions of captivity 
and destruction. 


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